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For the past three decades, actors across the public, private and NGO sectors have launched numerous measures to advance gender equality. Though each differs in methodology, scope and intent, they share a common purpose: to build awareness of the stark inequalities women face. But this is insufficient. Inequalities are a function of how people perceive the societies, institutions and organisations in which they live and work. The right to vote was an essential measure of gender equality a century ago, but it is insufficient today. The measurement of inequalities must be continually updated. The best way to do so is by measuring how our perception of inequalities evolves.
Indeed, measuring actual inequalities without evaluating perceived inequalities does not always give us a good understanding of progress over a given period. Younger generations can often perceive inequalities that may have been relatively invisible to the previous generation. At the heart of a commitment to progress is the hope that when it comes to reducing gender inequalities, each generation has higher standards than the previous one. That explains why measures of gender inequalities are insufficient if not compared with estimates of our perceptions of those inequalities. Evidence that any given group perceives growing gender inequalities is a sign that there is more progress to be made.
For instance, despite cardiovascular diseases being the leading cause of death among women worldwide, in the United States only one-third of clinical trial subjects for novel cardiovascular disease drugs are women, and only 31% of the trials that include women report results by gender.
Assessing perceptions of gender inequalities can help societies and organisations identify where to focus their efforts to become more inclusive. It underlines where these barriers are most entrenched and where it is urgent to intervene.
Furthermore, evaluating perceptions can also have persuasive value. The norms of institutions and societies often shape views and priorities. Evidence that institutions and societies are moving towards greater gender equality can persuade decision-makers that they too need to act to reduce inequalities in their domains.
Where does gender equality stand in G7 countries?
In G7 countries, the participation of women at middle and senior management levels has increased markedly in recent years. At the same time, gender disparities widen as women progress to higher levels of management. It is much more difficult for women than men to reach executive positions. This paradox is observed not only in the private sector, spanning small, medium and large companies, but also within public and political life.
Twenty-three percent of working women declared that even though they were more competent, a male colleague had been promoted or chosen for a promotion.
The fight against gender inequality cannot be won without implementing effective strategies to break this glass ceiling permanently. A necessary precondition is to continuously assess the situation of gender stereotypes and prejudices, which is the purpose of the Women’s Forum Barometer on Gender Equity.
The perception of gender inequalities at work is validated by empirical evidence
Around 32% of working women in G7 countries reported they have already noticed being less paid than male colleagues having equal competencies, proven by the G7 average gender wage gap which stood at 14.6% in 2022. There is even more inequality in the promotions given to women. Twenty-three percent of working women declared that even though they were more competent, a male colleague had been promoted or chosen for a promotion.
To complete the picture, 41% of working women declared they have already worked part time for one or more years to take care of someone. At just over four hours per day, they spend around two hours per day more on unpaid work than men in G7 countries. Globally, on average, women do three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. In the long run, this is highly detrimental to their economic security. Thus, perception meets reality, and this comparison even underlines that it goes beyond it.
Read more on the Forum Network: The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart
The authority gap is the mother of all gender gaps. Nothing will change unless we acknowledge that the gap exists and that we want to do something about it.
A reality also experienced by women in the world of entrepreneurship
The Women’s Forum Barometer shows that the female G7 respondents report fewer opportunities for contracts and new business (61%); less funding for their business (56%); struggling to become entrepreneurs; and doubts in their capacities to found and lead companies (49%). These four beliefs are alarming; however, the last is the most worrying since it highlights that women have internalised prejudices about their own abilities. The reality confirms this belief. In France, credit rejection rates in 2018 were 4.3% for women entrepreneurs compared to 2.3% for men. Around 2% could be added to global GDP if gender equality in entrepreneurship was attained, affecting not just women’s reality but everyone’s.
In the field of technology the gap between perception and reality is large
Regarding perception, a high share of G7 women respondents (70%) are convinced better access to information technology and artificial intelligence would favour the development of inclusive digital applications and AI tools. Furthermore, they think this would reduce the risk of a digital divide (66%) while increasing the level of GDP (59%). Reality is very different. At Apple, a leading company, women made up only 23% of employees in technical roles and 29% in executive positions; only 27% of Amazon managers were women in 2018. Thus, the gap between the perception of gender inequalities in STEM and reality is large.
There is a large gap between the perception of the importance of women in medical research and reality.
A large share of the women surveyed at G7 level is convinced that better access to healthcare services for them would have positive consequences on the prevention of diseases and health issues (72%), the development of new treatments for several diseases (68%) and life expectancy of the entire population (65%).
Moreover, it seems particularly irrational not to consider the differences between women and men given a study by INSEE found that, based on daily activity, men produce 7 kilograms more CO2 emissions per day.
The reality is that women have been excluded from biomedical research. The science that informs medicine—including disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment—consistently fails to consider the crucial impact of sex and gender, such as the effects of body size, composition and hormones on drug responses. For instance, despite cardiovascular diseases being the leading cause of death among women worldwide, in the United States only one-third of clinical trial subjects for novel cardiovascular disease drugs are women, and only 31% of the trials that include women report results by gender.
Climate change has the highest gap among the areas analysed
Only 25% of respondents believe that women are more affected by climate change. Whereas a study focusing on Spain found that women in 2019—across all age groups—were more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases related to climate change-related temperature increases. Biological differences between men and women can explain why climate-related hazards may affect women more. Furthermore, other factors can also combine with being a woman such as age, which causes higher female mortality. At the same time, the analysis shows women in government positions are more likely than men to sign international treaties to reduce global warming. Moreover, it seems particularly irrational not to consider the differences between women and men given a study by INSEE found that, based on daily activity, men produce 7 kilograms more CO2 emissions per day.
To keep this focus on both the perception and reality of gender equality, each year the Women’s Forum releases its Barometer on Gender Equity. By arming ourselves with the knowledge of how we far we’ve come, we equip future generations for the battle against inequality.