Accelerating Gender Inequality

Achieving gender equality is a global imperative. Yet the pace of progress is slow and the gap remains a barrier to the world’s true potential. Taking action will help drive global growth and build a fairer society.

In 2015, 193 countries agreed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including the goal of achieving gender equality by 2030. Despite the momentum, five years on, significant gaps persist and have been compounded by a series of events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and automation trends.

Gender inequality encompasses many factors, ranging from discrimination and bias to social norms and beliefs. Addressing these root causes requires a comprehensive approach. Some governments have accelerated their efforts by creating policies that target both specific symptoms and underlying causes, such as introducing quotas for women in leadership positions or requiring companies to publish gender data (MGI 2021). Other governments are focusing on changing beliefs through education and information campaigns. While tackling these beliefs will take longer, they have the potential to have an immediate impact on specific outcomes, such as increasing women’s participation in the workforce or reducing violence against women.

A key finding from MGI research is that a number of issues often fall under the umbrella term “gender inequality,” whereas others reflect more specific causes of inequality and may even be partially eliminated once other measures are taken. For example, the fact that women are not fully involved in household decision-making is a cause of gender inequality but does not necessarily reflect discrimination or bias in hiring practices. In addition, the fact that women receive lower-quality healthcare than men is linked to a range of factors including limited access to contraception and a lack of jobs, which make it harder for them to afford medical care.

In the short-term, accelerating progress on gender equality will have an important multiplier effect, given the link between economic performance and the level of women’s involvement in household decisions. To reduce the gap, we need more women to work and participate in the economy, and for that to happen, governments must remove barriers such as childcare costs, transport and other forms of public assistance, and encourage companies to hire and promote more women.

Finally, social norms play a major role in gender equality. They are shaped by the media and influence the way people think about relationships, responsibilities and gender roles. It is therefore essential for governments to change the portrayal of women in the media, as it has been shown to have an impact on attitudes toward sex and family roles (Etaugh and Bridges 2003).

Although some countries have a good track record in eliminating barriers to women’s participation in the labor market, others struggle to attract and retain women. This is partly due to outdated stereotypes about the abilities and suitability of certain jobs, and it is also a result of broader social norms that limit women’s choices. We need to focus on removing these barriers by introducing a wider range of educational programs, promoting awareness about how to change negative attitudes, and providing more incentives for companies to recruit and promote women.