The gender gap 2018

March 6, 2019
Denise Mullen

Every year the World Economic Forum releases an update on global gender issues. Their 2018 report[1] measures the same four areas covered since 2006 — the economy, politics, health, education — and for the first time pays attention to the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4thIR), the rise of artificial intelligence, and the need for different skills. The report points to the potential for a widening gender gap in two of the four indicators: the economy and politics.

Figure 1

Gender Gap 2019 Performance: Canada and World

Source: The Global Gender Gap Report 2018.

The world is doing well in narrowing gender gaps in health and education. There are 36 countries with perfect scores (i.e., full gender equality) in education, with most attaining scores higher than 0.90. Forty countries are tied for health outcomes (0.98), and no country included in the survey scores below 0.91. But there is still work to do, since about 20% of women in 44 countries are classed as illiterate and higher education is still out of reach for about 35% of both genders. Nonetheless, for all intents and purposes, most countries are close to eliminating gender gaps in health and physical survival.

Performance in economic participation and political empowerment is another story. The results in these areas drag down other achievements. The reigns of power, control, access, and participation in economies and in politics are still held mostly by men — and not a surprise, women continue to do most of the unpaid work in the world. In Canada, women spend an average of 3.9 hours per day on unpaid work compared to 2.4 hours for men (e.g., dependent and elder care).[2]

Overall, however, Canada performs well, ranking 16th out of 149 countries in the WEF’s assessment[3] – maintaining the same position as in 2017. We get top marks for education – in fact, we are one of the perfect-score countries on this indicator. This is welcome news. But we could make some improvements in tertiary education for working age adults 25 to 54 — in other words, continuing education and training for both genders. In an era of fast-paced technological change, digital skills development and on-the-job upskilling are critical if companies and economies want to remain competitive across all sectors.

Increasing the number of women in STEM professions/occupations is also important. If not, closing the gender gap in economic performance will stall as the 4thIR takes hold. For example, women make up less than 10% of the global labour force in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. In Canada, the ratio of men to women in this sector is 3:1. The participation ratio for women in ICT has plateaued for the past 10 years,[4] and there is a sizeable ~10% wage gap in the sector. Canada and British Columbia cannot afford to ignore the gender gap by failing to develop digital skills in women or not acting to enable the full realization of women’s potential to contribute to the economy through gaining credentials and experience in STEM fields.

As for political empowerment, Canada performs only slightly better than the global average — at 0.365 compared to 0.22. The 2015 federal election put 94 women into the House of Commons out of a total of 338 MPs (28%), while in B.C. the share of female MLAs rose to 39% in 2017 with 34 of 87 legislative seats held by women. This is slightly better than the global figures, where 18% of government ministers and 24% of parliamentarians are women. Only 17 countries have female heads of state.

The make up of corporate boards and senior leadership positions reflects slow change.[5] In Canada, only 16.4% of board seats are held by women among the companies that disclosed this information in 2018. For S&P/TSX listed companies the share rises to 28.4%. An encouraging data point is that 69% of companies in Canada that report have at least one female director and one-third have two or more. Unfortunately, comparatively few women hold the positions of CEO or board chairperson in Canada (~3.5%).

The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take a couple of generations to close the gender gap, in general, and even longer for women to achieve full economic and political empowerment. The cost of gender differences is significant and includes foregone economic output in the trillions[6] globally and limitations on the perspectives needed to solve complex social, economic, and environmental problems. Looking ahead, increasing the economic and political participation and empowerment of women should be a priority.



[3] Ranked 16th overall at 0.771; Economic performance at 0.748 (27th); Education at 1.0; Health at 0.971 (104th); Political at 0.365 (21st). Canada compared to the top ranked Iceland at 0 .858 (1st), 0.793 (16th), 0.999 (39th), 0.968 (121st), 0.674 (1st), respectively.


[5] 2018 Diversity Disclosure Practices, Women in leadership roles at TSX-listed companies, Osler.


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