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The Future of Work

It Will Take 118 Years To Close The Global Gender Wage Gap

A massive study of 3.2 million employees reveals the barriers to equality that women around the world face.

[Screenshots: via World Economic Forum]

"When women thrive, businesses thrive." That's the title of a recent report by consulting firm Mercer that looks at women in the workplace across 42 countries. It should of course go without saying. When people do well, businesses do well. Women are no exception to this.

And yet, the barriers to entry abound. "Women are still a staggering 118 years away from closing the gender gap—in terms of labor market opportunity, education, health, and political clout," the report's authors write, siting the latest data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report.

The Next 10 Years

According to the Mercer report, which surveyed 3.2 million employees, 1.3 million of whom were women at 583 organizations in 42 countries, women across North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia, and New Zealand are expected to make up just 40% of the professional workforce in the next decade.

The study found that the greatest potential for growth in the next decade in terms of female representation in the workplace is in Latin America, where the number of women in professional roles is expected to increase from 36% to 49% of the workforce by 2025. In North America, that rate is expected to go up by just 1% in the next 10 years, and in Europe, it's expected to remain flat, at 37%, while only 28% of women in Asia will hold top positions by the year 2025.

Building A Better Pipeline

But as women move up in organizations globally, their representation numbers decline. This means that while 49% of support staff around the world is made up of women, only 26% of senior managers and 20% of executives around the world are women. What's more, those women in the highest-level roles at global corporations are 1.3 times more likely to leave their job than their male counterparts. "Women face a 'perfect storm' financially, because they tend to work in lower-paid employment than men, have more significant gaps in service, and live longer than men, so they need retirement funds to last longer," write the researchers.

The growth in those numbers hinges on building support for gender diversity outside of just human resource departments, building a long-term pipeline of women leaders and finding ways to use data to make a noticeable difference when it comes to women in leadership roles.

Access To Capital In The Developing World

While the Mercer report highlights women's status in the corporate workplace, there is also a substantial and rapidly growing population, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, of women small business owners who have the greatest opportunity to make an economic impact on both their families and communities. Organizations like Goldman Sachs's 10,000 Women aim to help women in the developing world gain access to business education, mentoring, and access to capital, which is what women business owners most lack.

So far the program has reached women business owners in 56 countries, according to Noa Meyer, global head of 10,000 Women. In developing countries like Afghanistan, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, providing women entrepreneurs with small investments can go a long way in impacting economic conditions, says Meyer.

The program, which was started in 2008 to help provide women with the skills, education, and support needed to start and grow their own businesses, has since surpassed its 10,000-person goal. It has helped 25,000 women gain access to funding for their businesses, with a goal of reaching 100,000 women.

To date, only a third of formal small and medium businesses worldwide are run by women, according to a report by Goldman Sachs and the Global Markets Institute. What's more, up to 70% of women-owned businesses in the developing world don't have the support of financial institutions, creating a credit gap of nearly $300 billion. "If we are able to close that credit gap by 2020, it could lead to 12% growth in income per capita by 2030," says Meyer. "Access to capital is the final barrier."

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