Women in the Workforce: Global (Quick Take) - Feb 11, 2021
Women in the Workforce: Global (Quick Take) - Feb 11, 2021

Women in the Workforce: Global (Quick Take) - Feb 11, 2021

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Globally, the Covid-19 Pandemic Is Disrupting Women’s Participation in the Labor Force1

Women experienced unprecedented job losses across the world due to the pandemic. One study of employment and income trends in six countries (China, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States) found that women are 24% more likely to permanently lose their jobs compared to men.2

Even before the pandemic, the global labor force participation rate was declining for both women and men. However, across the world, women are less likely to participate in the labor force than men.3

Globally, in 2020:

  • Less than half (46.9%) of all women participated in the labor force, a decrease from 51.0% in 1990.4
  • Nearly three in four (74.0%) men participated in the labor force, down from 80.2% in 1990.5
  • Women represented 38.8% of all participants in the labor force.6

Structural barriers and cultural restrictions contribute to this gender gap.7

  • Despite an increase of women pursuing higher education globally, a gender gap in employment rates remains among highly educated women and men in some countries.8
  • Unpaid caregiving responsibilities can prevent paid employment opportunities, and this work disproportionally falls to women.9
Women Spend More Time Performing Unpaid Work, Such as Childcare and Housework, Than Men10

Globally, only 41 million (1.5%) men provide unpaid care on a full-time basis, compared to 606 million (21.7%) women.11

  • Mothers are less likely to be employed compared to fathers and women without children.12

On average across the globe, women spend 4 hours and 22 minutes per day in unpaid labor, compared to only 2 hours and 15 minutes for men.13

  • Covid-19 has widened this gap even further. Women are now spending 15 hours more in unpaid labor each week than men.14
Family Support Policies Are Crucial for Increasing Women’s Labor Force Participation Rates15

The United States is the only OECD member nation to not mandate paid family leave.16

  • Maternity leave is available in 184 economies with a median leave of 98 days.17
  • Paternity leave is available in 105 economies with a median leave of only 5 days.18


Despite Progress, the Gender Gap Is Still Wide at Senior Levels19

Very few women are CEOs of the world’s largest corporations. As of the August 2020 Fortune Global list, only 13 women (2.6%) were CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies—and all of them were White.20

A 2020 analysis by Mercer of over 1,100 organizations across the world found a leaky pipeline for women in leadership, with the representation of women decreasing as the levels progress:21

  • Executives: 23%
  • Senior managers: 29%
  • Managers: 37%
  • Professionals: 42%
  • Support staff: 47%
Some Countries Use Quotas or Targets to Increase Women on Corporate Boards22

Women held 20.6% of board director seats worldwide in 2020, a small increase from 20.0% in 2019.23

France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and South Korea are among the countries that have implemented quotas for women on boards of public companies.24


The Pandemic Has Exacerbated the Global Pay Gap Between Women and Men25

Across OECD countries, women earned 12.9% less than men in median earnings in 2018.26

  • Wage losses resulting from Covid-19 are disproportionately affecting women. In Europe, for example, women are experiencing a total wage bill loss of about 8.1% compared to just 5.4% for men.27
    • This is due in part to the unequal employment impacts of the pandemic on women, who make up a majority of frontline and essential workers and are overrepresented in industries and occupations facing business closures (e.g., hospitality and retail).28

In many countries, a higher proportion of women are working in the informal economy (e.g., domestic workers, street vendors) than men, which contributes to the global gender wage gap.29

  • A woman in informal employment earns, in average monthly wages, only 47% of what a man in formal employment earns.30
    • In comparison, women in formal employment earn just 79% of what men in formal employment earn globally in average monthly wages.31


To Meet the Challenges of the Future of Work, Women Across the World May Need to Upskill and Transition to New Industries

Women already have the job skills to position them for roles in high-growth fields of the future,32 but are overrepresented in industries most likely to be affected by automation.33

  • By 2030, an estimated 40-160 million women may need to transition into higher skilled roles, necessitating higher education or upskilling.34

Women are currently underrepresented in high-skilled subjects like STEM.

  • Globally, women make up 35% of STEM students35 and only 29.3% of those working in scientific research and development (R&D).36


Catalyst, Workplaces that Work for Women - WomenInnovateTech.org

Founded in 1962, Catalyst drives change with preeminent thought leadership, actionable solutions and a galvanized community of multinational corporations to accelerate and advance women into leadership—because progress for women is progress for everyone.

Women in the workforce – global: Quick Take. (2021, February 11). Catalyst.