Australia has reported its worst result ever in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, coming in at 50th out of 156 countries. 

The index measured against four categories — economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Despite maintaining first place in the second category, measuring literacy and enrollment in education, the nation’s score has dropped in every other category and by 26 places overall. 

The result is particularly troubling at a time when there is a growing acceptance that diversity drives business success. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and BankWest Curtin Economics Centre’s study last year highlighted the link between female representation on boards and improvements in the company’s bottom line. The study revealed that inequalities including the gender pay gap represent “a lost opportunity”.

The World Economic Forum reports that the pandemic has had a higher negative impact on women than men, where childcare and domestic duties have increased for women alongside job loss. LinkedIn’s data on recruitment and women in the workforce revealed a similar story. 

According to Karin Kimbrough, Linkedin’s Chief Economist, “Women’s hiring has proven to be more vulnerable than men’s, and COVID-19 has likely had a more damaging impact on women’s careers.” 

UN Data has also confirmed this trend, showing that women’s employment is “19 per cent more at risk” compared to men’s, as female-dominant industries including tourism and hospitality have been the most affected. 

According to Sadia Saidi, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society, “The hardest-hit sectors by lockdowns and rapid digitalisation are those where women are more frequently employed. Combined with the additional pressures of providing care in the home, the crisis has halted progress toward gender parity in several economies and industries.”

The WEF’s reporting of Australia’s poor performance in gender parity shines a light on the embedded gender inequality in the nation. Australian business and government leaders can see the benchmark and can use the findings to improve outcomes not only for women but for wider economic and societal benefit.

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