WEF report: double depression

The latest World Economic Forum report on the Gender Pay Gap is depressing for two reasons. I applaud the WEF for its attention to the issue, but I find its ‘solution’ simplistic.

First, it shows that worldwide the cause of greater equality has been put into reverse. The latest trends means that it will take

“a staggering 257 years to close the gap on economic participation for women – compared to 202 years in last year’s report.”

We know that the pandemic has added to women’s unpaid work burdens; caused many women to drop out of the employment; and hit the occupations in which women tend to work harder than most. All bad news – though I continue to hope/believe that the break up of traditional working patterns in many countries may in the longer term benefit women’s careers. The WEF deserves credit for continuing to monitor global trends.

But the second reason I find the WEF report depressing is its supposed ‘solution’:

“50/50 representation at every level of the organization, including the C-suite.”

Oh dear. Does this mean exactly 50 – not 50.1, or 55, or 60? And at every level? If it does, just imagine the contortions need to hit all those precise targets. I can imagine even the most sympathetic managers groaning; and other underrepresented groups, such as those with disabilities, trying to factor in their own interests in an ever more complex calculation. But far more importantly, from the Paula Principle perspective, this ignores women’s increasingly superior levels of qualification and competence. If it’s a temporary and provisional target then maybe that’s ok – except then why 50? If it’s the ultimate goal, it’s an unreasonable limiting one, on both meritocratic and equity grounds.

Surely we need a much more creative and dynamic set of solutions, which factor in differences in competence – at every level, indeed, and looking across the full working life.

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