Workers in the City of London. The UK is ranked 18th in the world in the WEF’s gender parity index. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA
Progress to close the gender pay gap around the world has all but stopped since the 2008 economic crash and it will be more than 100 years before women can expect equal pay with men, according to the latest global figures.
Women’s pay still lags nearly a decade behind, according to the World Economic Forum, meaning that what they are paid now on average is the equivalent of what men were paid in 2006. And the outlook is gloomy: at current rates of change, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates it will be 118 years before women around the world can expect equal pay.
The pay penalty for being a woman has barely improved since 2008, the start of the global financial crisis, though the researchers say it is too soon to say if there is a link. Another theory is that even where political and business policies are improving, many employers still organise the working day around the stereotypes of women as caregivers at home and men as breadwinners at work.
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF, which campaigns on gender parity, warned on Wednesday that equality would matter more and more as computers took over the economy.
“We need to create a world where women’s contributions and ideals are as valued as those of men,” Schwab said. “Gender parity in our thinking and actions will be critical in helping to ensure that the future is served by humanity and not threatened by it.”
The WEF, famous for its annual winter gathering of the world’s richest and most powerful people in the Swiss resort of Davos, is publishing its 10th annual report on gender parity. The latest figures calculate that the average full-time salary for a working woman is $ 11,102 a year – little more than half the male average of $ 20,554. This almost matches men’s average income in 2006, which the WEF estimated at $ 11,351 (women’s pay then was $ 6,117).
Adjusted for inflation, the picture is worse: in today’s money, men were earning more than $ 13,000 in 2006 – but because it was the first year of the WEF report they cannot say how much more than a decade behind that would put women’s incomes.
The pay figures are part of the WEF’s annual report on all aspects of the gender gap, which also covers education, health and political empowerment. Based on scores for dozens of those indicators, Iceland comes out top, followed by Norway, Finland, Sweden, Ireland and Rwanda. The UK comes 18th, the US is 28th, and Australia is back at 36th.
As well as the moral, rights-driven pressure to narrow the gaps, pay discrimination between men and women is a loss to employers and the wider economy, according to Willem Adema, senior economist for the OECD, the international economic thinktank.
“It’s the same with all sorts of discrimination, whether it’s of a sexual orientation or whatever,” Adema said. “If discrimination means people not pursuing individual aspirations to the full … the economy loses out on a lot of talent.”
Global averages inevitably mask huge differences between countries and even regions. Nordic countries dominate the list for all measures, including pay.
However, top performers are not all predictable. For comparing average total incomes for men and women, eight countries appear to have reached parity, but those figures will be distorted because the survey does not measure average incomes above $ 40,000. Of those countries where proper comparisons can be made, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and Vietnam come out on top. Algeria, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan and India are the worst performers.
The list of countries that have best succeeded in closing the gap between men and women in the economy – which also includes the rate of women working and in leadership roles – is topped by Bolivia, France, Nicaragua and Ecuador. Nordic countries, despite having topped the league 10 years ago, have also continued to go further than most to improve the lot of women who want to work.
Pay for women has traditionally been depressed by the fact that so many more women than men work in low-paid public sector and “caring” professions, and do part-time work, which is often in low-pay sectors.
However, the WEF report also finds a wide gap between the rates of pay for men and women doing the same work: for every $ 1 earned by a man, researchers estimate that, on average, a woman will get little more than 60 cents.
The country that scores best for paying men and women most equally for similar work is Rwanda, while Zambia is third and Albania fifth. The worst scores are for Angola, Brazil, France, Chile and Argentina.
Solutions to the continuing gender gap in pay fall into three categories, according to Saadia Zahidi, a member of WEF’s executive committee and the lead author of the report. She listed regulations banning outright discrimination; improving parental leave, childcare and tax policy; and changing incentives for companies to improve their performance, including a voluntary agreement (to avoid legislation) by the UK’s biggest public companies to work towards having at least 25% women on their boards.
She also pointed to Turkey’s experiment with tax breaks for businesses that employ more women; and companies trying out their own policies, such as Coca-Cola making special efforts to support female suppliers and distributors. Some companies are also trialling mentoring – including younger women mentoring older male colleagues to help them understand the changes.
Zahidi also believes a growing focus on the need for “caring” professions will put a premium on wages in those sectors, where women are dominant.
Perversely, in some countries women are losing out because maternity and childcare policies are so generous they are taking more time out of their careers.
Adema said this needed to be addressed by more shared parental leave between mothers and fathers – an emerging trend. Iceland and Germany were among the first countries to do this, and Japan and South Korea have enacted similar legislation in the past two years, but it is too soon to see the effect.
“Whether we’ll ever get full employment is another question,” said Adema. “But young professionals now expect their partner to play his role: that will be one driver to greater equality.”
The good, the bad and the improvers:
Central Copenhagen. Denmark offers 75% subsidised daycare to families. Photograph: Alamy
Denmark has a reputation for gender equality, with a strong welfare state and 75% subsidised daycare, enabling at least three-quarters of women to work. But new figures show there is still a gender pay gap of 16.4%, and a campaign raising the ideas of women striking from 10 November – in effect the last day of the year on which they are paid for their work – was shared 180,000 times on Facebook.
Ole Just, an economist for HK, Denmark’s largest employment union, said: “Even though Denmark’s figure is low compared with other countries, the gap is still too big – it’s not good enough.”
Mona Larsen, of the Danish National Centre for Social Research, agreed: “It’s not great for women at the moment, and if the trend continues it will be 111 years before there are equal wages between men and women in Denmark.”
So why are Danish women still having to mind the gap? “It’s partly because there aren’t many women on company boards in Denmark (just 17%), so fewer women earn the big salaries,” said Larsen. “Men and women have similar educational levels in Denmark (60% of all graduates are female), but women are using their education in different ways, with more choosing to go into the public sector, where pay is lower.”
Danish women spend fewer hours in the office than men and take on more duties at home, too.
Researchers from Aarhus University found that highly skilled Danish women do more household activities than their US peers and are far less likely to outsource housework. High taxes mean that a cleaner can set you back 250 kroner (£24) an hour, and egalitarian norms make paying someone else to do your dirty work an ethical grey area in Denmark.
The same systems that help Danish women balance family and work may also be hindering them. Marie Busck, corporate social responsibility and compliance officer at the Danish retail company Tiger, said: “We have social security and childcare that makes it easy for mothers to work, but it’s still mostly women taking time off to look after children.
“Parents get 52 weeks’ leave for a new baby, but if it’s predominantly mothers taking it and they have two children, then they’re out of the workplace for two years.”
Busck believes this has a big impact on women’s careers and stops some reaching more senior positions: “Middle management is split more equally, but at the top there’s a big difference in the number of women and men.”
As well as encouraging women to the top, Larsen wants more to go into the private sector. “Women should be being paid as much for their education as men,” she said. “This way we can stop certain occupations becoming ‘gendered’.”
And the first step? “Better pay transparency – so women know what to aim for.” Helen Russell in Jutland, Denmark
Research technicians in Gaborone, Botswana, where the gender pay gap is closing. Photograph: Jon Hrusa/EPA
In Botswana, men still earn more than women, but the situation is improving rapidly. A proactive women’s movement and a receptive government have combined to narrow the gender pay gap considerably in this upper-middle-income country.
“I think the gender pay gap is not a problem in Botswana. It used to be, but not now,” said Ida Mokereitane, executive director of Emang Basadi, a women’s rights group.
Mokereitane credits this to serious legislative reform, such as an amended employment act which recognises “the desirability of eliminating discrimination between the sexes in respect of wages for equal work”.
“It is maybe not 100% fixed, but in general women now have the same opportunities as men,” she said. “We’ve also been seeing a lot of changes, where in positions of decision-making there are a lot more women, in the public and private sector.”
The situation was not always so good. A 2001 academic study found that “female employees in Botswana’s labour market [were] on average better educated than their male counterparts yet on average they [earned] much less than their male counterparts”.
Bridget Senthufhe, office manager for an international NGO, said: “I have experienced it in my career, where my male counterparts earned more than me. They earned a lot more. I worked in human resources so I saw that.”
Pat Smythe, head of a Gaborone-based human resources firm, said significant improvements had been made. “There’s a difference globally in the pay of men and women, whether we want to admit it or not, but Botswana is one of the better countries.
“Although the country is still no closer to having a female president, there has been a big improvement in the wage gap between the genders. The gap is now 5% or less.” In neighbouring South Africa the figure is between 15% and 20%, he pointed out.
Smythe attributes the improvement to intensive lobbying by women’s groups and influential women within political movements. He also argues that President Ian Khama is more receptive to reform than his predecessors.
A further statement of intent is the appointment of Pearl Matome as permanent secretary for labour and immigration, one of a handful of women in such a senior government post.
“She’s in a critical position that can influence the total elimination of that gender gap,” said Smythe. Simon Allison in Johannesburg
Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, who has vowed to promote wage equality. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP
According to the WEF, Ecuador has been a trailblazer for reducing the gender pay gap over the past 10 years.
The government of Rafael Correa has taken action to promote equality. Last March, in commemoration of International Women’s Day, the labour minister, Carlos Marx Carrasco, and UN Women representative in Ecuador, Moni Pizani, signed an agreement that both organisations would work on policies and projects to reduce pay differences.
In a report this month in El Universo newspaper, Pizani said Ecuadorian women were paid between 17% and 24% less than men, and that the gap was widest in rural areas.
Delia Lema, a 26-year-old woman from the Chimborazo province, told the newspaper that when her husband found a better-paid job, his former employer – the manager of a farm – denied her the chance to replace him, claiming she would not be as productive as her husband.
City women describe a similar kind of discrimination. Daniela Salazar, a lawyer and deputy dean at a private university in Quito, said that in the six years she had been teaching, her responsibilities had grown disproportionately in relation to her pay.
“When we mention that we need to leave work at a certain time, or that we cannot go to a certain event because we have responsibilities in our homes, it is perceived as if our dedication to our work is not absolute,” she said. “That is one of the reasons why we don’t receive similar remuneration to men”.
Last April, a law was introduced stating that an employer could not lay off a pregnant women. The law also penalised untimely and discriminatory layoffs.
But despite the new legislation and the fact that more women are working in areas previously dominated by men, women still feel that employers perceive their gender as a disadvantage, and even as a disqualification, when hiring.
For Gabriela Salinas, commercial manager of a publishing company, the gender pay gap is particularly evident on the top rungs of the corporate world. “I’ve never experienced being paid less for being a woman, but men do get more opportunities to exercise senior management positions and, of course, they are also better paid than women in the same positions.” Marcela Ribadeneira
Women demonstrating in Rome in 2011 against the sex scandals involving former leader Silvio Berlusconi, which they said had hurt their dignity and reinforced outdated gender stereotypes. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters
Francesca Villanti, director of exhibitions at the Complesso del Vittoriano in Rome, thinks Italy has come a long way on the rights of working women and does not see much evidence of discrimination on the job – with one stark exception.
“Once a woman gets pregnant, then it’s over,” she said. “As soon as she gets pregnant it is almost impossible to get a job or go back to work.”
When it comes to pay equality, Italy ranks a lowly 127 out of 145 countries, and 92nd for the gap in overall pay, according to WEF data. Experts on gender issues and female executives point to a confluence of what they call “cultural issues” at the heart of the problem.
Italy ranks poorly not only on pay standards, but also on the number of women who are working. According to OECD data, it has the third lowest female labour participation rate (51% ) among OECD countries, after Turkey and Mexico.
Many people point to a striking lack of support when it comes to childcare, where women are still viewed as the main caregivers. Less than 30% of children under the age of three attend daycare, suggesting a lack of childcare options.
“Most of the burden is shouldered by women,” said Francesco Grillo, a political economist and managing director of Vision and Value, a consulting firm. “This probably explains the rather large gap Italy has in terms of the employment rate of women.”
When women do work, it is often in part-time or lower-paying jobs. And the hurdles faced by young women with children mean few rise to the top of their fields.
For parents who do leave children in daycare, there is often an assumption that women can take many days off as their offspring settle in. The so-called inserimento, in which a child spends only a few hours at a time in daycare, with a parent nearby, is a familiar and frustrating rite of passage for working mothers that can take up to four weeks.
Stefania Todisco, who works for an Italian television broadcaster, believes Italy is about 30 years behind other western countries when it comes to women having equal rights and pay, which she attributes to Italian women not getting the right to vote until 1945. “In 30 years women could have the same position as other countries,” she said. “In every top level right now, women are absent.”
But there is a potential bright spot. Women are taking more prominent roles in government and politics, even if their numbers are not significantly increasing in business and other areas.
Thanks in part to a quota rosa that is forcing more gender equity in government, many advocates for gender and pay equity think the changing public face of government will eventually lead to legislation that supports working women, and that pay will follow. Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome