Inveteracy of the Gender Gap

As we step into 2020, it is worth reflecting on how far we have come. But how far along are we when it comes to closing the gender gap? According to a study conducted by the World Economic Forum, not very. They predict that it will take another 100 years to close the global gender gap. The omnipresent gender imparity is threatening – and not only to women. In the world of the 4th industrial revolution, the gender gap puts many an economy at risk.

words Maruša Romih

What is the Gender Gap?

When hearing the words ‘gender gap’, most people tend to think about women receiving lower wages than men. Globally, this is certainly true. Yet, there are more differences that must be considered, as equal wages and job opportunities are only part of a bigger picture. When women are treated differently to men within their society or culture, when they are not treated equally to men in political or intellectual debates, the fact that there are not nearly as many women as there are men in the leading positions of large corporations, second-guessing women, questioning their skills and knowledge, or even mansplaining … All of these comprise the gender gap, that failing of modern egalitarian society that morality demands we overcome. It is more inveterate than we think. The gender gap has, in fact, become so obvious that we tend to overlook it. Hence, it is high time for more wakeup calls, because it seems that global society has accepted the predominance of male voices.

Global Results for 2020

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has annually studied the situation of the gender gap, so they can report on the Global Gender Gap Index. For obtaining the index, the WEF focuses on economy standings, education possibilities, health conditions, and politics. All of the mentioned areas are crucial for understanding the gender gap. The Global Gender Gap for 2020 was estimated at 68.6% (with a goal of 100% representing absolute equality), leaving 31.4% to close. Compared to previous years, the gap is shrinking, which means there were improvements.

The good news is that there are countries that have been almost completely successful in closing the gap. The top of the list is occupied by Scandinavian countries. Iceland (88 %), Norway (84 %), Finland, and Sweden are the most successful at closing the gender gap. Following them in the Top 10 list are Nicaragua, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Rwanda, and Germany, in that order. The United Kingdom is in the 21st place (77 %), Mexico in 25th, Australia in 44th, and the United States in 53rd (72 %) – behind Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, and Bangladesh.

Improvements are mostly occurring in health and education, where the gap is, according to the WEF report, practically nonexistent. The areas of economy and politics are showing lower success rates with closing the gap. This reveals that men are still predominant in the economic and political spheres. From this, we can tell that there are far fewer females than male representatives in ministries, parliaments, and other political institutions around the globe, and fewer women are engaged with the economic markets. There are far fewer women than men leading or having senior positions at businesses or companies.

Road in Iceland, well ahead in closing the gender gap.
Iceland, well ahead in closing the gender gap.
Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash

Roots & Risks of the Gender Gap

There is more to the gender gap than simple economics, of course, and many people will claim that in terms of society things have changed and that women are treated with absolute equality, at least in developed countries. This is a claim, however, that does not stand up to scrutiny. No place in the world has completely closed the gender gap, nor has any of the WEF’s focus areas completely closed the gender gap. This indicates that, even though the world is headed in the right direction, no one can claim that the gender gap is nonexistent and that women are treated equally. Thus, what is needed to close the gender gap is a shift of perspective.

If we are all aware of the importance of gender diversity, how is it that the gender gap is so firmly rooted around that globe that another century will have to pass before we can say that the gender gap is a thing of the past? One of the major obstacles to including more women in the economic and political sphere is social perception. Women are seen primarily as emotional, domestic figures who take care of the home and their families. We all know how the description continues and where it ends – leaving everyone believing that women do not belong to politics, economy, etc. This is an image that has been passed on through ages. No matter how drastically the times have changed, this image has not. It is about time it does; it is no longer valid.

People around the globe are mostly aware of how important diversity is for a thriving society. Gender diversity is just a type, but it is a critically important one. It guarantees different points of view, a different perspective on problems, and a potential source of solutions. To mention just one example showcasing the importance of gender diversity, there is the case of the facial-recognition algorithms designed by white men. Buolamwini and Gebru point out that the algorithms perform well when it comes to white men, but much worse when it comes to black men, let alone black women. Since facial recognition software has universal applications, surely there is no room for such basic mistakes. Economies of the future will be based on technology. To deliver the results that we expect, these technologies need to be founded on diversity. The sooner we want to improve them, the sooner we have to start working on completely closing the gender gap.

Where to Start?

The gender gap does not start at the office, with women arriving for a job interview or applying for a position. It starts at home and in classrooms. In many countries, boys have better access to education than girls do. Even though the latest WEF report claims that the gap in education is not visible, UNESCO stated that in spite of “the steady rise in literacy rates over the past 50 years, there are still 773 million illiterate adults around the world, most of whom are women.” To close the gender gap in the economy, we have to start closing the gap and eliminating inequality in the education system worldwide. Had the girls been given a chance to obtain secondary education, this would have influenced not only their knowledge and chances for further schooling but would also have helped with reducing the figures which speak of child marriage and early childbearing (being married and giving birth before 18 years of age). All over the world, many women today stay at home for no other reason than that they have only a very limited education. This is also an image of a woman that sits in our mind, but it has the potential to change with better education opportunities.

Yet, if there is no power or will to eradicate the gap in the education system for the sake of improving women’s lives, think about the benefits that increased diversity could have on the economy. There surely must be a drive to improve the standing of the global economy and increase profit. The contribution of more minds—diverse, educated, and feminine—into positions of influence in the world’s economies could lead to profound change. Gender equality could result in global  improvements. According to the WEF, it “could add an additional $250 billion to the GDP of the UK, $1,750 billion to that of the US and $2.5 trillion to China’s GDP.” Even if only because of higher profits, women need to be encouraged to opt for leading positions in areas where there are no or few women at present. This will improve their position in society and help to shift the mindset, but women need to know that they can be leaders in areas dominated by men. It will be easier for them to believe if they are encouraged at a young age, at home, and in the classroom.

How to Close the Gender Gap?

Are the roots of the gender gap still wrapped around the foundations of patriarchal society? Do many people still unknowingly praise Nietzsche’s idea that a woman’s only desire is to please a man? Would they, if they heard this idea spoken aloud, agree with it? Surely, those times have passed. Women have turned out to be invaluable for the growth and progress of global economies.

The world of the 4th industrial revolution cannot exist without a wholesome approach from both men and women alike. The world is developing at an unprecedented speed and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We cannot stay behind. If we can follow the technologies we are developing, we have to develop our mindset as well. The gender gap is a global problem, but it can only be solved individually. Every country must pay attention to the gender gap. The gender gap will not close simultaneously around the globe, for we can see that there are major differences from one country to another. However, the predictions are good, and we should focus on that. Some countries could close the gender gap quite soon and set an example. Each country will indeed have to close the gender gap on its own, but having an example to follow and help from others to push forward when it counts can turn an individual effort into an effect of a global reach.

Closing the gender gap starts with changing the existing image of women that is based on a woman from centuries ago. This image needs to change in the eyes of men, women, girls, and boys. The world has stepped into a new era. So have women. Embrace it, and use the opportunities this brings. Closing the gender gap does not mean women overpowering men. The inclusion of women does not mean an exclusion of men. Diversity does not impose danger but breeds improvement. Closing the gender gap is a huge opportunity. The sooner we achieve it, the sooner we will harvest the results, so it is best not to hesitate, but rather to do everything we can to start cutting the roots of this ancient and invasive weed, until at last we are able to close the gender gap for good.