Gender by numbers: Are we making enough progress on equality goals?

Women's participation in higher education has increased and gender pay gaps have narrowed, but significant inequalities remain

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International Women's Day is an annual celebration of the remarkable efforts made by campaigners to champion gender equality over the decades — and serves as a rallying cry to the world on the progress still to be made.

Much has changed since the day — held on March 8 each year — was first observed more than a century ago.

But what do the raw numbers tell us about where the world stands today in its mission to empower women in all walks of life.

The world of work is a key area that has had a significant upheaval in the status of women, with increases in female participation around the globe.

Gender pay gaps have substantially decreased, at least in wealthier nations, although there are many areas in which campaigners want to see further progress.

Here we highlight metrics that indicate where progress has been made — and others where there is still much to be done.

18 per cent — the approximate gender pay gap in the US

According to figures from the Pew Research Centre in the US, women there earned 82 cents for every $1 earned by men in 2022, only a slight increase on 2002’s figure of 80 cents.

Over the previous two decades, there was a much greater narrowing of the gender pay gap, because in 1982, women in the US earned only 65 cents for every $1 earned by men.

Many developed nations have narrower the gender pay gap. According to OurWorldinData, the figure was 14.3 per cent in Australia in 2016, 13.4 per cent in Sweden, 9.9 per cent in Iceland and 3.3 per cent in Belgium.

The UK's gender pay gap plummeted to 17 per cent in 2016, from 50 per cent in 1970. Figures for developing countries are rarely available.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — an intergovernmental organisation with 38 member countries — serves to highlight the disparity in pay between the sexes.

In its most recent data collected from its member states, Bulgaria has the smallest gender pay gap, with men earning on average 2.6 per cent more than female colleagues, while the biggest gulf in wages is found in South Korea, at 31 per cent.

Fiona McBride, chief executive of Kaplan Professional Middle East, which provides professional training, said the role of women in the workplace “has gone some distance in the last generation”.

“I’m of an age where there weren’t too many women in the workplace,” said Ms McBride, 55, a Briton who has lived in Dubai for the past three years.

“I would very often find myself where I would be the only woman in a room and in situations where, I have to say, maybe I wasn’t listened to.

“I believe women are the biggest barriers to women. We put our own limitations on what we can do … We can sometimes fall into our own stereotypes: ‘I shouldn’t do that; I should step back from that; I’m being too pushy.’”

While saying this, and adding that things were still “not equal”, Ms McBride said that women now behaved very differently than they did early in her career.

“When I listen to young women in their 20s and the conversations they have with their bosses, it’s amazing,” she said. “They say what they will accept.”

While women still on average earn less than men, the workplace tends to be safer for them, as they accounted for less than 9 per cent of the 5,190 people killed at work in the US in 2021, according to the US Department of Labour.

77 per cent — the proportion of Emirati women who enrol in higher education

Graduates meet with family and friends after the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) inaugural commencement ceremony in Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Female participation in higher education in the UAE and many other nations is greater than that of men.

According to the UAE Gender Balance Council, at two of the three federal higher education institutions, women account for between 80 and 90 per cent of the student body.

These figures in part reflect the fact that Emirati men are more likely than women to go abroad for higher education, but higher female participation in higher education is also a factor.

It is a pattern seen widely, with women accounting for a majority of people in higher education in 74 per cent of countries for which data is available, according to a 2021 UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) report.

Women in the UAE are showing enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects, making up 56 per cent of the graduates at government universities in these courses.

“[There is] lots of buzz about women in Stem, lots of programmes to encourage women to go into computer science and maths,” said Soraya Beheshti, regional director for Crimson Education and a board member of the New Zealand Business Council – UAE.

Sometimes a high proportion of women in Stem subjects does not translate into representation in the workplace. According to figures from a 2020 UN report, women make up 43 per cent of Stem graduates in India but only 14 per cent of the engineers and scientists at the country’s research institutions.

Figures published by the World Bank indicate that, worldwide, women made up 44 per cent of academic staff in 2020, up from 32 per cent in 1974.

There is huge variation between nations, with only 3 per cent of academic staff in Chad being women (with many other sub-Saharan African countries also having low female participation in academia), compared to 65 per cent in both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

2.3 per cent — the proportion of venture capital funding that goes to businesses led by women only

According to Crunchbase, a business information company, only 2.3 per cent of funding from venture capitalists went to firms with female-only founders in 2020.

This bold statistic suggests that women entrepreneurs may find it much harder than their male counterparts to raise funds to support their start-up businesses.

“Female entrepreneurs get about 2 per cent of funding, despite the fact they make up a lot of the entrepreneurs who seek funding,” Ms Beheshti said.

She said there were also differences in how potential venture capital investors considered male and female-led businesses, with a more sceptical attitude taken towards the latter.

“It places an additional obstacle in the way that simply isn’t there for male founders,” she said.

Women launch businesses with, on average, 53 per cent less capital than men, a UK government-commissioned report on female entrepreneurship indicated.

Now, banks often have specific funds for female entrepreneurs and Ms Beheshti said that many companies in the financial world “have a lot of mandates to increase the representation of women”.

At Kaplan Professional Middle East, Ms McBride recently ran a training programme for the latest graduate intake for a major Saudi bank. She said of those recruited, 21 were women and only three were men.

Emirati Women's Day - in pictures

Updated: March 08, 2023, 2:45 AM