The gender gap in employment: What's holding women back? (2023)


The gender gap in employment: What's holding women back?

  • Introduction
  • A global gap
  • Unemployed or vulnerable
  • Why does the gender gap matter?
  • What women want
  • The power of women’s preference
  • Persistent challenges
  • Pressure to conform
  • Bridging the gap
  • Smarter solutions

Published in December 2017 · Updated in February 2022


Around the world, finding a job is much tougher for women than it is for men. When women are employed, they tend to work in low-quality jobs in vulnerable conditions, and there is little improvement forecast in the near future.

Explore this InfoStory to get the data behind the trends and learn more about the different barriers holding women back from decent work.

A global gap

When someone is employed or actively looking for employment, they are said to be participating in the labour force.

The current global labour force participation rate for women is just under 47%. For men, it’s 72%. That’s a difference of 25 percentage points, with some regions facing a gap of more than 50 percentage points.

Unemployed or vulnerable

Women who want to work have a harder time finding a job than men. This problem is particularly marked in Northern Africa and the Arab States, where unemployment rates for women exceed 20%.

While vulnerable employment is widespread for both women and men, women tend to be overrepresented in certain types of vulnerable jobs: men are more likely to be working in own-account employment while women are more likely to be helping out in their households or in their relatives’ businesses.

(Video) CPPR Webinar on Gender Gap in Employment: What is holding women back?

Why does the gender gap matter?

The freedom to work – by choice, in conditions of dignity, safety and fairness – is integral to human welfare. Guaranteeing that women have access to this right is an important end in itself.

From an economic perspective, reducing gender gaps in labour force participation could substantially boost global GDP. The regions with the largest gender gaps would see huge growth benefits. Many developed countries would also see their average annual GDP growth increase, which is significant during times of near-zero economic growth.

What women want

In 2016, ILO and Gallup teamed up to ask women across the globe if they preferred to work in paid jobs, care for their families, or do both. The data showed that a staggering 70% of women – regardless of their employment status – prefer to work in paid jobs.

The power of women’s preference

In countries at all levels of economic development, a woman’s personal preference is the key factor in determining whether she will seek out and engage in paid work. However, this preference is heavily influenced by socio-economic constraints and pressure to conform to traditional gender roles.

(Video) PS. Explain This: The Gender Employment Gap

Persistent challenges

Gender roles

Gender roles and the pressures to conform to these roles for women vary across regions, religions and households. One way the pressure to conform manifests itself is through marital status. For instance, in developed and emerging economies, women who have a spouse or a partner are less likely to be employed in a paid job or be actively looking for one.

This can often arise from the economic stability of a partner’s income that can reinforce the “male breadwinner” bias in some marital arrangements.

In developing countries the reverse is true: the economic necessity in the region gives all women little choice but to work despite their marital status.

Work-family balance

Across the board, both women and men report that the biggest barrier for women in paid work is the struggle to balance it with family responsibilities.

Work such as childcare, cleaning and cooking is necessary for a household’s welfare – and therefore for the well-being of societies as a whole – but women still shoulder the brunt of this often invisible and undervalued workload.

Lack of transport

In developing and emerging countries, the lack of safe and accessible transportation is the most challenging factor for the small percentage of women who report being affected by this.

All too often, women risk facing harassment and even sexual assault on their daily commute.

Lack of affordable care

Globally, the lack of affordable care for children or family members is an obstacle for women, both for those looking for a job and those in paid work.

(Video) Women in Business: Closing the gender gap in employment and leadership

In fact, it decreases a woman’s participation chances by almost 5 percentage points in developing countries, and 4 percentage points in developed countries (data from the World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends for Women 2017).


Pressure to conform

The ILO-Gallup survey from 2016 revealed that thereare still many people who believe it is unacceptable for a woman to have a paid job outside the home: 20% of men and 14% of women globally, to be exact. Many women reported that their immediate family disapproved of their decisions to work outside the home.

Bridging the gap

Achieve equal pay

The principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value must be protected in law and promoted in practice. Improved wage transparency and gender-neutral job evaluation can help achieve this end, in addition to strengthening existing systems such as minimum wages and collective bargaining.

Women tend to be over-represented in occupations perceived as unskilled and “low-value”, particularly in care jobs. Preconceptions about the value of certain types of work can be challenged through education, public outreach and job evaluation systems.

Eliminate discrimination

(Video) What causes gender inequality in the workplace?

Many countries have explicit legislation against gender discrimination and harassment at work. While important, this is not enough. Additional measures, such as effective remedies, dissuasive sanctions, specialized equality bodies and public awareness campaigns are key to eliminating discrimination.

Promote work–family balance

Many women and men lack access to adequate maternity protection, paid paternity and parental leave and other basic social protection measures. Policy reforms should acknowledge that the bulk of unpaid family and household work is currently performed by women.

Create quality care jobs

Care professions – in which women are over-represented – have a long history of poor regulation and protection. Promoting decent work for care professionals, including domestic and migrant workers, is essential. At the same time, over-reliance on unpaid care work should be reduced and redistributed through public services and social infrastructure development.

Guard against downturns

Due to their increased likelihood of being in vulnerable or informal employment, women are disproportionately impacted by economic crises. Safeguards against the effects of economic downturns need to be complemented by gender-responsive policies, including efforts to formalize jobs in the informal economy.

Smarter solutions

The data is clear: women want to be in paid employment, but a persistent set of socio-economic barriers keep them out of the workforce. Identifying and quantifying these barriers allows us to develop smarter policy responses for eliminating them.

Ultimately, closing gender gaps in the labour force is not just good for women and their households, but for the global economy as a whole.

  • Read the full report on trends for women
  • Read the full report on global perceptions about women at work

More Stories

ILO programme implementation 2020-21 Explore InfoStory
(Video) #ScotWomenSkills: The Employment Gender Gap


What are some of the ways in which women are held back? ›

The 7 Insidious Ways Women Are Held Back At Work – & How To Handle Them
  • 1 of 7. Benevolent sexism. ...
  • 2 of 7. Double standards. ...
  • 3 of 7. Judged more harshly for their strengths. ...
  • 4 of 7. Excluded from informal social networks. ...
  • 5 of 7. Less exposure to important senior staff. ...
  • 6 of 7. Not being credited for their contributions. ...
  • 7 of 7.
13 Feb 2019

Why is there a gender gap in employment? ›

Several factors contribute to this gap: different working patterns of women, often linked to their career breaks or change in working pattern to look after a child or other relatives; gender segregation in low-paid sectors; part-time employment… Some women are even paid less than men for the same work.

Why is it important to close the gender gap in the workforce? ›

Focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion to bridge the gender gap can be key to attracting and retaining top talent. A diverse and inclusive workforce fosters greater employee engagement, which in turn can increase financial returns and market share.

How do you deal with a gender gap? ›

Here are five ways to improve gender equality in the workplace:
  1. Make a longer shortlist when recruiting. ...
  2. Remove the gender pay gap. ...
  3. Use skills-based assessments. ...
  4. Have women mentor men. ...
  5. Make work-life balance a priority.
8 Mar 2021

Why are women held back in the workplace? ›

Women were held back because, unlike men, they were encouraged to take accommodations, such as going part-time and shifting to internally facing roles, which derailed their careers. The real culprit was a general culture of overwork that hurt both men and women and locked gender inequality in place.

What does the first women hold back and why? ›

Answer. The first woman held her log of wood back and faces round the fire she noticed one was black because she was a prejudiced woman.

What is gender gap explain? ›

The gender gap is the difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments or attitudes. The Global Gender Gap Index aims to measure this gap in four key areas: health, education, economics and politics.

Why do employers often employ females instead of males? ›

Employers often employ young females instead of young males because of the following: Females can relate through empathy and appreciation for others since they are typically more focused on individuals and their needs. Their greater willingness to communicate and receive feedback contributes to solving disputes.

Why does women's work have no value? ›

Unless women and men are paid equally in the labour force and there is no division of labour by sex, women's work at home will have no value. Since it is not clear what constitutes housework, and we know that housework standards vary greatly, it would be difficult to know how to reward it.

How do you close the gender gap summary? ›

Women and Girls – Closing the Gender Gap

How does gender gap affect the workplace? ›

Social norms around the role of women also influence these trade-offs. Women are more likely to supply fewer hours of market work than men, putting them at risk of being channelled into lower-quality jobs.

How do you bridge gender gaps in the workplace? ›

Bridging the gap
  1. Achieve equal pay. The principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value must be protected in law and promoted in practice. ...
  2. Tackle occupational segregation. ...
  3. Eliminate discrimination. ...
  4. Promote work–family balance. ...
  5. Create quality care jobs. ...
  6. Guard against downturns.

What are the barriers for women in the workplace? ›

Barriers to women's workplace equality
  • Workplace culture.
  • Lack of female leaders.
  • Gender stereotypes.
  • Lack of flexible work practices.
  • Affordability and accessibility of childcare.
  • Sexism.
  • Lack of mentors.
  • Societal expectations regarding gender roles (e.g. household work/childcare)
28 Sept 2022

What are the problems faced by women's in workplace? ›

Men and women, on being asked about the top challenges facing women who work at paid jobs in their countries and territories, agreed that lack of work-life balance, familial issues, childcare and workplace harassment make the topmost challenges for working women worldwide.

What is holding women back in leadership? ›

Lack of role models

The presence of women in leadership positions and the opportunity to network with them is imperative in helping advance women in their careers. Without role models, it can be a very lonely journey.

Why are women so important? ›

Women are the primary caretakers of children and elders in every country of the world. International studies demonstrate that when the economy and political organization of a society change, women take the lead in helping the family adjust to new realities and challenges.

Why do people hold back? ›

There are basically three reasons why we hold back . . . We judge something about ourselves as unacceptable so we don't want others to see it. We believe another person will judge something about us as unacceptable. We withhold as a way to punish the person we're withholding from.

What is gender gap issues? ›

Gender gap : Discrepancy between men and women in the areas of health, education, political empowerment, and economic empowerment. Gender parity : Relative access to resources for men and women, often used for education.

Where does the gender gap come from? ›

The gender pay gap is the result of many factors, including race and ethnicity, disability, access to education and age. As a result, different groups of women experience very different gaps in pay. The gender pay gap is a complex issue that will require robust and inclusive solutions.

Can a man be paid more than a woman for the same job? ›

If a person isn't being paid equally for the same or similar job, their employer will be breaking the law, unless the employer can show that the difference in pay or other terms is genuinely due to a material factor that is not related to the gender of the jobholders.

Why do females provide more care than males? ›

Research does find neurobiological differences in the experience of compassion. Women may at times have higher levels of oxytocin—sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone” because it is linked to bonding, social connection, and monogamy.

Who is more likely to get hired a man or a woman? ›

Women are 36% more likely to be hired than men – but they are also far less likely to view a job and then apply. Men compete more but win less.

Why do females get paid less than males? ›

Differences in pay are caused by occupational segregation (with more men in higher paid industries and women in lower paid industries), vertical segregation (fewer women in senior, and hence better paying positions), ineffective equal pay legislation, women's overall paid working hours, and barriers to entry into the ...

What is valued in a woman? ›

One of the most important traits of a high valued, highly desirable woman is her self-confidence and deep sense of self-worth and self-esteem. She puts up healthy boundaries in her dating life, making sure she is never disrespected in any of her relationships.

Why do companies prefer females? ›

Better work environment: they can relate through empathy and appreciation for others since they are typically more focused on individuals and their needs. Their greater willingness to communicate and receive feedback contributes to solving disputes.

What can be done to improve gender equality? ›

  • From increasing women's representation in leadership and decision-making to redistributing care-work and productive resources, progress towards a gender equal and sustainable future starts with taking action today. ...
  • Empower women smallholders. ...
  • Invest in care. ...
  • Support women's leadership. ...
  • Fund women's organizations.
28 Feb 2022

How can we solve gender problems in the workplace? ›

Steps managers can take to eliminate gender inequality in organizations
  1. Educate employees on unconscious gender bias. ...
  2. Appoint diverse interviewers and implement longer shortlists to hire more women in top positions. ...
  3. Conduct an audit and make salaries transparent.
15 Oct 2021

How can we create more gender equal in the workplace? ›

How to Promote Gender Equality in the Workplace
  1. Recheck Your Vacancy Announcements. ...
  2. Crosscheck the Interview Questions. ...
  3. Analyze the Ratio of Men and Women in your Organization. ...
  4. Create a Discrimination-Free Company Culture. ...
  5. Emphasize on Work-life Balance. ...
  6. Say NO to Gender Pay Gap.
10 Aug 2022

› research-knowledge › articles › thi... ›

Women face institutionalized imbalances such as wage inequality, unpaid or poor-quality work, lack of access to education and discrimination based on societal a...
Our research may have uncovered clear benefits that come from gender equity in business, but it also revealed a disappointing truth: women are still vastly unde...

How to Close the Gender Gap › 2021/05 › how-to-close-the-gender-gap › 2021/05 › how-to-close-the-gender-gap
Most companies say they're committed to advancing women into leadership roles. What they may fail to recognize, though, is that systemic barriers are holdin...

What is holding women back in leadership? ›

Lack of role models

The presence of women in leadership positions and the opportunity to network with them is imperative in helping advance women in their careers. Without role models, it can be a very lonely journey.

Why do women have back issues? ›

Upper back pain in women is usually due to: Poor posture, like slouching or pushing the head forward while sitting or standing, causing misalignment of the spine. Muscle overuse or strain, usually due to repetitive motions or lifting items or children incorrectly. Injury to discs, muscles and/or ligaments.

What is the repression of women? ›

Repression of women by men has been a feature of history and fact of today. By repression, one means restricted or unfair access to social, physical, political or financial assets. This spills over into personal repression — the assumption by males that they are superior in every way to females.

Do women have backups? ›

New Research Shows That Over 50% Of Women In Relationships Have A 'Back-up' Partner. According to a market research company,, a new study shows that over 50% of women in committed relationships have a backup plan in place in case the current one does not work out.

How can we help women in the workplace? ›

How Leaders Can Support Women in the Workplace
  1. Lack of pay equity. ...
  2. Limited access to paid leave. ...
  3. Feelings of burnout. ...
  4. Harassment and discrimination. ...
  5. Conduct a pay equity analysis. ...
  6. Launch a mentorship program for women. ...
  7. Implement a comprehensive paid leave policy. ...
  8. Sponsor an employee resource group for women.
10 Mar 2022

What are the challenges faced by women's today? ›

Issues in focus
  • Gender equality and gender backlash.
  • Women's autonomy, equality and reproductive health.
  • Women's land rights.
  • Criminalization of adultery.
  • Discrimination against women in nationality.
  • Women human rights defenders and gender discrimination.

Why is it important to support women in leadership? ›

Having female leaders in positions of influence to serve as role models is not only critical to the career advancement of women, but stands to generate broader societal impacts on pay equity, changing workplace policies in ways that benefit both men and women, and attracting a more diverse workforce.

Why do women have more back problems than men? ›

The exact reasons are unclear. However, there are some physical differences between men and women that provide some clues. The result of pregnancy, pelvic structural differences between men and women and hormone levels in women are all key reasons that may account for greater incidents of back pain.

Who has more back problems men or women? ›

Seven out of 12 studies in a recently published literature review demonstrated a significantly higher pain prevalence for women. Waddell12 also published a literature review in which 6 out of 8 studies reported a higher prevalence of back pain for women.

Do women or men have more back problems? ›

The overall prevalence of LBP is higher in women than in men (12,13). Women are also affected by many chronic pain conditions and painful conditions of the musculoskeletal system in greater numbers than men are (14).

What is the problem with women's empowerment? ›

Dowry system is another huge women problem in the society which is increasing day by day. Women are ill-treated, man-handled, disrespected, tortured and suffer other cruelties (violence, murder and suicide) because of the lack of dowry at the time of marriage. It causes degradation of women status to a great extent.

How can women reclaim power? ›

If you feel that your divine strength has dwindled for whatever reason, perform the actions below to reclaim your power right now:
  1. Take back your power. Women nurture this world. ...
  2. See yourself in control. ...
  3. Protect your energy. ...
  4. Maintain your standards. ...
  5. Become your own boss. ...
  6. Honor your authenticity. ...
  7. Love your own kind.
3 Dec 2017

What is women's role in conflict resolution? ›

Women are crucial partners in economic recovery, social cohesion, and political legitimacy, and women's participation in a mediation process can help ensure that more and diverse members of the community become engaged in peacemaking.

Which gender is more likely to break up? ›

While it is established that about half of all marriages end in divorce, it is commonly assumed that the breakups are initiated by both genders equally. In fact, it is surprising to most people that women are actually more likely to end their marriages than men.

Can married women have boyfriend? ›

Legally its not allowed , lover can be charged with adultery , if they have sexual relationship. Women should file for divorce & and obtain decree 9f judicial separation or divorce before living with lover.

What does a backup girl mean? ›

A back-up partner, standby lover, or spare-tyre lover is a person anticipated as a potential future romantic/sexual partner in the event of the failure or unforeseen end of a current relationship.


1. Gender Differences in Mobility after Childbirth and Implications for the Gender Gap in Employment
(The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies)
2. The Gender Gap: Why are Women Still Paid Less | Forward Thinking | ENDEVR Documentary
3. Explained | Why Women Are Paid Less | FULL EPISODE | Netflix
4. The ‘gender-equality paradox’ in STEM fields – BBC Newsnight
(BBC Newsnight)
5. What you should know about the gender pension gap and how to fix it.
(Dianne Sullivan)
6. Closing the Gender Gap: Empowering Women's Economic Participation
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Maia Crooks Jr

Last Updated: 11/05/2023

Views: 5495

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Maia Crooks Jr

Birthday: 1997-09-21

Address: 93119 Joseph Street, Peggyfurt, NC 11582

Phone: +2983088926881

Job: Principal Design Liaison

Hobby: Web surfing, Skiing, role-playing games, Sketching, Polo, Sewing, Genealogy

Introduction: My name is Maia Crooks Jr, I am a homely, joyous, shiny, successful, hilarious, thoughtful, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.