Women in work: How governments and companies in Latin America are closing gender gaps

Gender Economics

 This article was previously published in the World Economic Forum Blog, on January 12, 2023. This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

  • At the current rate of change, it will take more than 150 years to close the global economic gender gap.
  • The Forum has supported thirteen countries to convene Gender Parity Accelerators which are national public-private collaboration platforms that support countries in closing economic gender gaps.

  • The accelerator in Chile has reduced the gender pay gap by 37% in the participating companies.

The impact of reducing the economic gender gap.

Through a combination of new laws designed to recognise women’s contribution to unpaid caregiving work and encourage the sharing of responsibilities, to workplace initiatives creating higher-quality jobs for women, the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Accelerators are reducing opportunity and financial gaps between men and women.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, accelerators have been convened in Argentina, ChileColombiaCosta RicaDominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico and Panama in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank.

In Chile, member companies such as Accenture, Cargill, IBM, Invest ChileLatAm Airlines, Microsoft, Nestlé, PwC, SAPSiemens and Unilever have seen women’s representation in the workforce increase to 41%, almost 10 percentage points above the national average, which stood at 31.7% in January 2019. Companies enrolled in the three-year accelerator programme also reported a significant 37.5% decrease in the gender pay gap – men employed by member companies earn on average 5.6% more per hour, compared to the national average of 18%. Collectively these companies collectively employ 130,000 local women – or 7% of salaried private sector employees.

With support of the accelerator, Panama adopted legislation related to minimum representation of women on the Boards of Directors and equal pay. Both laws stand to drive greater pay equity and female leadership in the private sector. The accelerator’s leadership group, made up of public and private sector representatives, has been formalized as the National Council for Gender Parity through an executive decree. The council will provide an official mechanism for public-private consultation and collaboration on gender parity measures beyond the accelerator lifecycle.

Equalizing caring responsibilities and women’s unpaid labour.

Several accelerator countries are adopting policies that support more equal redistribution of care responsibilities. In Colombia, research conducted by the accelerator on the cost and benefits of expanding paternity leave led to the government introducing a two-week paternity leave allowance, one of the highest such allowances in the region. For comparison, Ecuador and Peru offer 10 days of paternity leave, while Mexico, Brazil and Chile offer just five. This measure is intended to encourage more parents to share childcare responsibilities in dual-income households.

As part of its action plan, Costa Rica introduced a national care policy that significantly expands the national system of care, to cover preschool children, elderly and persons with disabilities. This enables parents and caregivers to better balance career and care responsibilities.

Through the unique public-private collaboration model, accelerators support not only the legislation of these laws but also their adoption by providing a space for public-private consultation and engaging the private sector to support roll-out and implementation.

The challenge of eliminating the gender gap.

It is unlikely that global gender parity will be achieved in our lifetime.

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum has been measuring gender pay gaps in countries around the world in the annual Global Gender Gap Report. The most challenging gender gap is the economic dimension which, according to the latest data, will take 151 years to close. Overall, global gender gaps of all kinds will take 132 years to close.

Closing the Gender Gap

Image: World Economic Forum

Although the economic opportunity gap has narrowed slightly, progress has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in terms of participation of women in the labour force, where the gender gap widened.

Today, proportionately fewer women than men are participating in the workforce, which means fewer women in work end up in leadership positions, and women often earn less than their male colleagues.

Our approach to reaching gender parity.

Beyond Latin America and Caribbean, the Forum has also supported 13 countries around the world to establish Gender Parity Accelerators focused on closing gender gaps in economic participation, pay, leadership and the future of work. Egypt and Jordan host Gender Parity Accelerators in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan and Japan host accelerators in Asia.

In accelerator countries, CEOs and ministers are working together over a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. The specific aims are to increase the number of women in leadership positions, reduce the gender pay gap, increase women’s participation in the labour force, and hardwire gender parity into the future of work.

The accelerators are part of the Country Accelerator Network, a Forum initiative linking accelerators driving impact in education, gender, jobs, market creation, and skills across more than 30 economies. Through the network countries can elevate successful initiatives that can inspire and inform other countries to take similar action. For example, best practices from Nordic countries, which consistently top the Global Gender Gap ranking, have inspired several other countries to take action through legislation on the minimum representation of women or mandatory pay gap reporting. Both Jordan and Kazakhstan for example aim to close gaps in leadership by introducing legislation on the minimum representation of women on the Boards of Directors.

And in 2022, Japan passed legislation on gender pay gap disclosure, requiring companies with more than 300 employees to publicly disclose the wage gap between women and men. The accelerator will further support implementation of the new legislation by working with the 300+ companies that are part of the Male Leaders Coalition for Women’s Empowerment to address their pay gap.

How can you get involved?

Our goal is to build a global network comprising a total of 15 countries accelerating gender parity by 2025.

If you are a business in one of the Gender Parity Accelerator countries, you can join the local membership base and contribute to driving impact. As part of a local accelerator, you will assess gaps within your workforce and implement policies to help change them.

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