The World Economic Forum's latest report on gender equality shows that Sub-Saharan Africa’s gender gap has started to widen again. File photo: Xinhua

CAPE TOWN - The World Economic Forum's latest report on gender equality shows that Sub-Saharan Africa’s gender gap has started to widen again after showing progress in closing the gap for six consecutive years.

The report, which was published this week, showed Rwanda leading the region despite moving down two places after a reversal in progress on economic participation and opportunity.

At 80.4%, Rwanda took 6th spot on the top 10 of the global gender gap index list, with Iceland taking the first place, followed by Norway. According to the report, Namibia’s rise is partly due to an increased share of women in parliament.

South Africa’s 19th position at 75.5% registers some progress on the political empowerment sub-index but also a slight decline in wage equality. 

The figures indicate that the global gender gap remains slightly reduced in 2018 and the data suggest that it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap and 202 years to bring about parity in the workplace. The report revealed that the world has closed 68% of its gender gap, as measured across four key pillars, economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and survival.  

While the gender gap in STEM is well chronicled, a new analysis conducted in collaboration with LinkedIn points to a glaring gender gap that is developing among AI professionals, where women represent only 22% of the AI workforce. This gap is three times larger than in other industry talent pools.

The analysis also suggests that, in addition to being outnumbered three to one, women in AI are less likely to be positioned in senior roles or signal expertise in high-profile, emerging AI skills. 

The LinkedIn data suggest that women with AI skills are more likely to be employed as data analysts, researchers, information managers and teachers, whereas men are more likely to be employed as software engineers, heads of engineering, heads of IT and chief executives.

Given the depth of the talent gender gap in AI, there is a clear need for proactive measures to prevent a deepening of the gender gap in other industries where AI skills are in increasing demand. These include traditionally male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, hardware and networking as well as software and IT services, as well as traditionally female sectors such as non-profits, healthcare and education.

“Industries must proactively hardwire gender parity in the future of work through effective training, reskilling and upskilling interventions and tangible job transition pathways, which will be key to narrowing these emerging gender gaps and reversing the trends we are seeing today,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of the centre for the new economy and society and member of the managing board of the World Economic Forum.

“It’s in their long-term interest because diverse businesses perform better,” added Zahidi

“New forms of insights can help policymakers, employers and education institutions understand and prepare for the technological changes that are transforming the global economy,” said Allen Blue, Co-Founder and Vice-President, Product Strategy, LinkedIn.

“Shedding light on the persistent gender gaps in fast-growing fields like AI is a critical first step in creating policies and practices that can close those gaps and create new pathways to economic opportunity.”

Having closed more than 85.8% of its overall gender gap, Iceland holds the top spot in the Index for the 10th consecutive year. It has remained one of the fastest-improving countries in the world since 2006. Despite its top performance, the country has seen a slight regression on economic participation and opportunity after an increased gender gap in the number of women legislators, senior officials and managers.

African News Agency (ANA)