The Future of Gender Parity
A Labour Market Shift
In recent decades women have entered tertiary education and formal employment at an unprecedented pace. The Global Gender Gap Index shows that gender gaps in professional roles have been narrowing – nearly 76% of the gap in these roles has been closed globally. However, structural changes to labour markets are set to threaten those gains. In 2018 the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report projected that, in the lead up to 2022, 75 million jobs might be lost and 133 gained in some of the largest advanced and emerging markets as the nature of work changes across the global economy. The report1 also demonstrated rising demand for roles in fields such as data analysis, human resources and sales, roles that are the frontier of the new economy. In contrast, the occupations facing declining demand are ones in data entry, accounting and administrative functions—roles which contain highly routinized tasks which are being rapidly displaced by technological advancement.
This chapter goes further in depth in the roles of the new economy and examines the gender gaps within them. The analysis provided here reveals the set of growing professions which will be at the forefront of the emerging economy and cautions that they already exhibit nascent segregation along gender lines. Without effective strategies aimed at closing gender gaps in frontier roles such trends are likely to impact the nature and quality of women’s employment prospects and entrench gender gaps into the future of work.
Gender Gaps in Frontier Roles
A series of new metrics developed in collaboration between LinkedIn and the World Economic Forum can shed light on the gender dynamics of professional segregation at the frontiers of the new economy. Analysis of the roles with a growth outlook as observed in five-year hiring trends across the LinkedIn platform identified eight clusters2 of professions with increasing employment prospects across 20 leading economies.3 Those clusters span People and Culture, Content Production, Marketing, Sales, Product Development, Data and AI, Engineering as well as Cloud Computing. Among those eight micro-clusters, only two exhibit greater employment of women as compared to men—People and Culture, and Content Production.
Figure 1: Share of male and female workers across professional clusters
Figure 1 illustrates the extent of gender gaps across the professions at the frontier of the new economy. For contrast, the figure also includes the share of women employed in professional and technical roles—a statistic which summarizes in the aggregate the degree to which women are employed in skilled roles in contrast to low-skilled or manual work across the global economy. Through LinkedIn data we can observe that gender gaps are evident in specific skilled roles. In particular, across the three technical frontier role clusters defined by LinkedIn, female workers make up an estimated 26% of workers in Data and AI roles, 15% of workers in Engineering roles and 12% of workers in Cloud Computing roles. Data and AI, the newest technology profession, is poised to see greater parity than the more established technology professions of Engineering and Cloud Computing. Roles in Marketing, Sales and Product Development stand closer to gender parity, with women making up 40%, 37% and 35% of the workforce, respectively. In addition, we were able to analyse professions with highly distinctive skill sets which do not fit within those professional clusters. These also exhibit significant gender gaps. For example, women make up 12% of Automation Engineers, 13% of Android Developers, 18% of Robotics Engineers and 19% of Cyber Security Specialists.
Gender Gaps in Frontier Skills
To understand the needed next steps for tackling gender gaps across the professions of the future, this report presents a method to identify whether professions are under- or over- utilizing the available talent pool for the professions of the future. LinkedIn data scientists identified a set of professions which have high skill similarity with the professions of the future and compared women’s participation in that theoretical talent pool and in frontier professions. The results reveal that some professions are constrained by the availability of relevant talent, while others could effectively expand gender parity by embracing greater diversity in hiring and more inclusive managerial practices. The data outlines an opportunity to bring the share of women in frontier roles closer to parity by targeting recruitment of women in professions with high skill similarity to frontier jobs, and by demonstrating new career path opportunities to female workers with frontier skill sets.
Figure 2: Share of women in occupations by professional cluster contrasted with share of women in the talent pipeline
The Marketing cluster has the most potential to utilize a larger breadth of existing talent pools. The estimated average share of women employed in the Marketing micro-cluster is 40%. The same figure for the talent pool is 47%. Data and AI, Sales, and Product Development professions similarly under-utilize available talent pools. Figure 2 demonstrates those opportunities by each occupation. Examining the data reveals that in the Data and AI micro-cluster women make up 25% of Data Scientists professionals but 31% of those with a relevant skill set in all other occupations. In Marketing today 41% of Digital Specialists are women, yet 53% of those in the talent pipeline are female. Such figures suggest there is scope to expand the share of women employed as Data Scientists and Digital Specialists. In fact, all professions featured above the dashed line in Figure 2 currently under-utilize their available talent pools and thus can make further gains through a diversity and inclusion agenda.
Figure 3: Share of men and women by professional cluster and country
Cultural norms and practices underpin the higher education degree specialization of men and women and are a key driver of occupational segregation. Figure 3 exhibits the regional variation of women’s participation across frontier professions. Three factors underpin the share of men and women across the countries presented: differences in labour force participation of men and women, differences in the participation of men and women on the professional networking platform LinkedIn, and differences in the participation of men and women across frontier professions.
Gender Gaps in Frontier Roles and Frontier Skills by Geography
Across the 20 countries covered in this analysis women make up 40% of the labour force. This figure is at its lowest in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and India, where women are 16%, 20% and 22% of the labour force, respectively. Parity comes closest in Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and France, where women make up 48% of the labour force. On average the participation of women on the LinkedIn platform closely mirrors labour force participation figures, with an average across the 20 countries of 39%. Regional variations in participation in online professional networks underlie and influence the data. Specific care should be taken with interpreting the figures for Germany and the United Arab Emirates, in particular, where the figures diverge. Insights for these two countries may not provide as full a picture as other countries; as such, we would discourage cross-country comparison for those economies.
Across all countries—irrespective of labour force participation—the data reveals consistent variation in gender gaps across professional clusters, but the severity of that professional segregation varies according to economy. Singapore, the United States and India demonstrate larger shares of women across the most segregated professions – Engineering and Cloud Computing. In Argentina, New Zealand and Singapore the Marketing profession has reached gender parity. Cloud Computing, the most ‘male’ profession of the future, is closer to gender parity in India and Italy, two countries that have distinctively small gender gaps in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) higher education.
Figure 4: Share of men and women by skills cluster
There is one talent shortfall that consistently influences the ability of men and women to participate equally in roles of the future: women continue to be under-represented among workers with disruptive technical skills. Disruptive technology skills are the capabilities associated with developing new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Genetic Engineering. Figure 4 details the share of men and women who possess different types of skills. The data reveals that women make up a relatively larger share of those who state they have ‘soft skills’, and a relatively lower share of those with disruptive technology skills, although across both sets women make up a smaller share than men.
The Road to Gender Parity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Research on labour market segregation along gender lines has revealed that professional segregation of men and women into differentiated sectors contributes not only to lower innovation levels in professions which lack gender diversity, but also that this professional divergence has a compounding effect on gender pay gaps.4 Monitoring gender parity in the professions of the future provides a critical opportunity to guide the emerging labour market to more equitable outcomes in the future of work.
Additionally, a wide range of studies have shown that the preferences for certain jobs and skill sets among men and women are shaped by both the expectation and experience of diversity and inclusion across occupations.5 Over time such divisions signal preferred labour market progression to men and women, contributing to the selection of higher education degrees, progression from higher education degrees into entry level roles, and the attrition of female workers from predominantly ‘male’ fields.
The insights provided in this chapter showcase key metrics which can be used to track progress towards gender parity in the future of work and indicate a set of key strategies for closing gender gaps. First among those strategies is an urgent need to increase the supply and visibility of women with disruptive technical skills. To ensure that the professions of the future can target gender parity within the coming decade, reskilling and up skilling efforts for women interested in expanding their skills range should be focused on those already in the labour market or looking to re-enter the labour market after a period of inactivity. In tandem, a rigorous diversity and inclusion agenda within organizations can direct hiring practices to fully utilize existing talent pools and ensure that inclusive working environments retain and develop the women already employed in frontier professions.
It is tempting to consider that such actions should be taken in sequence—that first, the supply of equally skilled female professionals should increase and further efforts on diversifying employment in frontier professions should follow. Yet it is critical to ensure that women and young girls deliberating whether to make the investment of gaining new, technical skills can look to efforts underway in frontier professions and be assured that this investment can be realized in a future career trajectory. The World Economic Forum is supporting an emerging action agenda in this space (see Box 3).
Cardador, M.T., “Promoted Up But Also Out? The Unintended Consequences of Increasing Women’s Representation in Managerial Roles in Engineering”, Organization Science, vol. 28, no. 4, 2017, pp. 597–617, https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2017.1132.
Ensmenger, N., The Computer Boys Take over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise (History of Computing), MIT Press, 2010.
Seron, C., S. Silbey, E. Cech and B. Rubineau, “Persistence Is Cultural: Professional Socialization and the Reproduction of Sex Segregation”, Work and Occupations, vol. 43, no. 2, 2016, pp. 178–214.
The World Bank, Tackling the Global Profitarchy : Gender and the Choice of Business Sector”, The World Bank, May 24, 2019.
World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report 2018, 2018.