• At today’s rate it will take 257 years to fully close the economic gender gap.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator initiative is speeding up the process in 9 countries, with plans to expand.
  • Accelerators target four key challenges: women’s labour force participation, women in leadership, equal pay, and providing women with the skills to succeed in the jobs of the future.

Why are women in some countries prevented from taking their place in the workforce? Why are females generally paid less than males for the same work, not promoted into leadership positions, or deprived of training that would equip them for the technical jobs of the future? The simple answer is… there is no simple answer.

While great strides have been made to increase gender equality in some parts of the world, at the current pace of change it could take 257 years to fully close the economic gender gap. But the World Economic Forum’s Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator initiative is speeding up the process in the countries it’s working with.

An accelerator promotes in-country public and private partnerships dedicated to advancing women’s economic empowerment and addressing obstacles to change. Accelerators are currently set up in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank, and in France and to Egypt. The World Economic Forum is targeting to have 15 Accelerators by the end of 2020.

As the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 is published, Elselot Hasselaar, Project Lead for the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators at the Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society, explains how the initiative is changing lives.


Why is gender parity so crucial?

It’s important to look at gender parity from two sides: social and economic.

Firstly, there is the moral imperative. Ensuring that women have the same opportunities as men is simply the right thing to do.

But there’s a clear business case for boosting the number of women taking part in the labour force, too, as more participation would lead to gains in GDP.

On a micro level too, evidence shows businesses that embrace gender diversity, particularly in leadership positions, are more profitable.

What challenges hold women back and how does a gender parity accelerator help?

The accelerator model targets four key barriers to gender parity: increasing female participation in the workforce; boosting participation in management and leadership roles; working towards wage equality; and encouraging education and training to develop the skills women will need to participate in an increasingly technical future workplace.

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Four key barriers we must overcome.
Image: The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020

By facilitating private and public sector partnerships, accelerator countries create an action plan to tackle the root causes of economic gender gaps.

We bring together two government ministers and between two and four business leaders as national co-chairs, working with a national coordinator to run initiatives locally. In addition, the Accelerator involves between 50-100 of the largest employers in the country. Together this group drives in-country change.

While there are common challenges all countries need to overcome, each of the four key areas will differ in magnitude. Egypt, for example, will differ from France. And even within the same region, like in Latin America, challenges differ between countries.

For the model to work, leaders need to be fully committed to addressing the gender gap. It’s this commitment that drives the policy change needed to transform behaviour, both in the economy more broadly as well as inside the workplace.

But attitudes and norms need to change too. Redefining the role both women and men play in the labour force and at home, especially when it comes to care duties, is equally important.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

What practical steps do accelerator countries take to address the gender divide?

The Forum has developed a unique Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator Playbook, which guides processes like appointing co-chairs, outlining roles and responsibilities, setting timelines, and developing a sound action plan, which is a core component of the model.

This Playbook provides strategies and policies that both governments and businesses can include in their action plan to address the four key objectives, targeting roughly 10 actions for government and business to bring about real change.

The action plan is executed over a three-year period and the Co-Chairs decide which of the potential avenues contained in the playbook are preferable courses of action, with the highest chance of bringing about change in the local context.

If the Co-Chairs decide parental leave policies are important for labour force participation and that business should focus on bring more women into leadership roles, they then set the appropriate goals for public policy and business initiatives. When it comes to business leadership on this topic, in addition to other measures, we have a focus on hardwiring gender parity in the future of work. We provide a commitment framework that asks companies to commit to gender parity for recruiting and reward within their 5 highest growth roles by 2022.

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Gender parity within professional industries.
Image: Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator Playbook

Accelerator Co-Chairs join a Global Learning Network, which offers an opportunity for exchange between the various Accelerator countries and guidance from experts and leading countries on implementing successful strategies to help reduce their gender gap.

How successful has the programme been in reducing the gender divide?

In 2016 we entered a partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank and together we set up the first Accelerator in that region in Chile. Around 150 companies have embraced the initiative in Chile alone.

This set off a domino effect in the region, which in quick succession saw Accelerator programmes launch in several other Central and South American countries.

Next, we expanded the Accelerator model to France, the first country in Europe and in Egypt, the first country in the Middle East and Africa. As the programme continues to gain momentum, we aim to take membership from 9 countries to 15 by the end of 2020. If all the commitments from governments and businesses are fulfilled as expected, we expect to impact 25 million women.

What are the challenges facing the accelerator programme?

Setting up public private collaboration platforms to close gender gaps is a relatively new approach, and it takes time. But we believe the Accelerator model holds a key to unlocking change that will get us to gender parity by 2030.

We welcome countries and companies around the world to join our Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society to work with us on the Accelerators and other initiatives to close the gender gap.