The UK is falling behind in a global index of gender equality according to the World Economic Forum.
In 2019 the UK ranked 21st in the WEF global index, down from 16th the previous year. The index measures progress towards gender parity in four key areas: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.
Iceland remains top of the rankings with a score of 0.877 (1 equals gender parity). Norway, Finland and Sweden follow. Ireland is seventh, up two places, with a score of 0.798. The UK’s score is 0.767 and is the 13th best score in Europe.
The US was 58th globally with a score of 0.724, down from 56th the previous year.
Looking at the four key measurements individually, the UK ranked 58th for economic participation and opportunity with a score of 0.707 and 20th for political empowerment (0.396).
The UK’s scores for health and survival and educational attainment were 0.970 and 0.999 respectively.
The WEF report attributes the economic gender gap to a number of factors. These include stubbornly low levels of women in managerial or leadership positions, wage stagnation, labour force participation and income.
Women have been hit by a “triple whammy”: their high representation in roles hit hardest by automation, for example in retail and clerical roles; too few women entering tech-driven professions where wage growth is most pronounced; finally the lack of care infrastructure and access to capital strongly limit women’s workforce opportunities.
Women spend at least twice as much time on care and voluntary work in every country where data is available, and lack of access to capital prevents women from pursuing entrepreneurial activity, another important income driver.
Klaus Schwab, WEF executive chairman, said: “Supporting gender parity is critical to ensuring strong, cohesive and resilient societies around the world. For business, too, diversity will be an essential element to demonstrate that stakeholder capitalism is the guiding principle. This is why the World Economic Forum is working with business and government stakeholders to accelerate efforts to close the gender gap.”
Globally, the WEF said the gap between men and women had narrowed since 2018, but that it will still take another century for the gap to be eradicated, based on the speed of change. Last year it predicted 108 years for parity. At the current pace, it will take 54 years to close the gap in Western Europe.
The WEF added that while women were now leading the global institutions such as the World Bank and the European Central Bank, as well as female leaders of Germany, Finland and New Zealand, progress in the politics remained slow, with women holding only 21% of ministerial positions worldwide.
Suki Sandhu, founder and CEO of diversity organisation INvolve, said: “Despite our best efforts, there still aren’t enough women in senior roles. Unfortunately, there isn’t an overnight solution to this, and it requires robust processes in order to ensure any changes actually have an impact on organisations.
“What we need to be seeing is a big focus on recruitment and retention of women in the workplace, ensuring that there is equality at the hiring process and that talent is being nurtured in the pipeline. While it may take several years before we see this pay off, in the long run, we should steadily see pay gaps decrease if organisations are taking it seriously.”