Global Gender Gap in 2020

Alex Margolin March 05, 2020

Goldman Sachs made headlines earlier this year when its CEO David Solomon announced that the prestigious investment house would no longer back companies going public if their board of directors was comprised entirely of men.

“Starting on July 1st in the US and Europe, we’re not going to take a company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women,” Solomon said. “And we’re going to move towards 2021 requesting two.”

Solomon said he knows of about 60 companies that went public recently that had all-male boards. But over the past four years, boards with at least one female director performed “significantly better” than those with only men, he said.

By shining the spotlight on company boards, Solomon drew attention to social factors that perpetuate the gender gap. Many companies seek board members from the ranks of former CEOs and CFO of other companies, locking many women out of the process.

“Look, we might miss some business, but in the long run, this I think is the best advice for companies that want to drive premium returns for their shareholders over time,” Solomon said. The Goldman Sachs board, comprised of 11 people, includes four women.

Interestingly, Solomon made his announcement at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Forum has been tracking the Global Gender Gap for the past decade and beyond. Its annual report for 2020 was published at about the same time.

Comparing the latest results with the same index published a decade earlier can provide insight into which countries are making the most effort to close the gender gap.

Iceland Setting the Standard for Closing Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum seeks to capture the scope of the gender gap in 153 countries. It calculates an overall rank for each country according to four broad criteria:

  1. Economic participation and opportunity – The number of women in the workforce and the wage equality between women and men for similar work
  2. Educational attainment – Women’s enrollment at various levels of education compared to men’s
  3. Health and survival – women’s healthy life expectancy compared to men’s
  4. Political empowerment – Women with seats in parliament or as heads of state

The scores are then tabulated into a ratio and represented in numerical terms (0-1 where 1 represents complete gender equality). A score of 0.5 represents a gender gap of 0.5 between men and women, where men have significant advantages in the four areas measured.

Iceland – the top ranked country for 2020 (for the 11th consecutive year) – received a cumulative score of 0.887. It showed a rise of 0.018 from the previous year. In contrast, Yemen ranked last with a ratio of 0.494, and a drop of 0.006 from the previous year.

Top 10 – Overall
(North America and Western Europe):

Top Countries in 2020ScoreRank in 2010
1. Iceland0.8871
2. Norway0.8422
3. Finland0.8323
4. Sweden0.8204
5. Ireland0.7985
6. Spain0.7958
7. Germany0.7879
8. Denmark0.7826
9. France0.78118
10. Switzerland0.7797
*18. United States0.72413

Source: World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Reports 2020 and 2010

Top 10 – Economic Participation and Opportunity
(North America and Western Europe):

Top Countries in 2020ScoreRank in 2010
1. Iceland0.8396
2. Norway0.7981
3. Sweden0.7904
4. Finland0.7885
5. United States0.7562
6. Canada0.7513
7. Switzerland0.7469
8. Denmark0.7357
9. Ireland0.7328
10. Portugal0.72614

Source: World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Reports for 2020 and 2010

Comparing the countries by decade presents a unique insight. Iceland maintained its top position over the entire decade, and improved from #6 to #1 in economic participation and opportunity. The entire top five overall continued to set the pace for greater gender parity.

The United States fell from #2 in 2010 in economic participation and opportunity to a still admirable #5 in 2020. However, the US dropped five places in the overall ranking, from #13 ten years ago to #18 today.

In contrast, France climbed all the way out from #18 in 2010 to a top 10 finish in 2020, edging out Switzerland for the #9 spot. Portugal improved from #14 in economic participation and opportunity to jump into the top 10 a decade later.

Income Disparity is Greater than the Wage Gap

While conventional thinking tends to attribute gaps in earnings to the fact that women are still paid less than men for the same jobs, the report notes that the issue is much more nuanced. The wage gap still exists, but many factors combine to limit women’s earnings in comparison to men.

“Women in similar positions as men (for seniority and skill levels) are still paid less, but income disparities are larger than wage gaps,” the report states. “This difference is due partially to that fact that women encounter challenges to get to senior roles and/or to be employed in high-reward segments of the economy. However, a second part of the story is that women are less likely than men to obtain revenues from non-employment activities (i.e. from financial investment, entrepreneurship) where financial gains are substantially higher.”

The report explains that women in many countries have a harder time than men obtaining credit and purchasing property, which ultimately makes it harder for them to start businesses. The report notes that 72 of the 153 countries covered in the report have some limits on opening bank accounts for women.

It is this dimension of income disparity, beyond equal pay for equal work, that is being addressed by the new policy from Goldman Sachs. Time will tell if the decision will move the needle on gender equality. It will be interesting to see if the new policy w policy will serve as a catalyst for a change and if other banking institutions will follow suit.

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