Covid has widened the gender hole. It will likely be 135 years earlier than it closes

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The World Economic Forum predicts it will now take 135.6 years to reach gender equality – as the pandemic moves the world back a generation and delays parity by about 36 years.

Saadia Zahidi, executive director of the World Economic Forum, told CNBC, “100 years to global gender equality wasn’t good enough – and now (it’s) 136 years worldwide.”

“The pandemic has had a massive impact and essentially reversed much of the progress made in the past,” she told CNBC’s Capital Connection on Wednesday.

If companies want theā€¦ creativity and innovation that will bring them out of the crisis, they need diversity and must see this as a business investment.

Saadia Zahidi

Managing Director, World Economic Forum

One reason the gender gap has widened is that the sectors heavily employed by Covid-19 are mostly affected by women.

“Whether it’s travel and tourism that is closed around the world, or the consumer and retail sectors that are affected in so many countries, these are great employers for women,” Zahidi said.

A mother and daughter watch as speakers speak to the crowd at a demonstration against mandatory Covid-19 vaccines in Sydney, Australia.

Don Arnold | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Another factor is that many women took on additional duties during the home lockdown when schools were closed.

“It then meant a kind of double layer for women,” she said.

The WEF said data from market research firm Ipsos suggest that this “double shift” between paid and unpaid work has contributed to increased stress, anxiety about job security and difficulties in maintaining work-life balance.

Role of Governments and Businesses

Zahidi said governments have a “crucial role” to play in closing the gender gap.

For example, she said the authorities could invest in infrastructure to care for children and the elderly, which would be helpful given that women in “traditional” homes have such responsibilities.

Employers can also help women experience higher relative job losses and lower recruitment rates in industries that are recovering, she added.

“If companies want the … creativity and innovation that can get them out of the crisis, they need diversity, so they have to see it as a business investment,” Zahidi said.