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5 ways the pandemic affected gender equity in 2021

At current rates of progress, it will take 136 years to achieve true gender parity. Gender economist Katica Roy explains why.
Image: A protester holds a sign that readings \"Equal Pay\"
A protester holds a sign that readings "Equal Pay," during "A Day Without A Woman" demonstration in Miami. Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

On the eve of the pandemic, the World Economic Forum estimated it would take an entire century to achieve gender equity. Nearly two years into Covid-19, as we wave goodbye to 2021, it’s time to update our calculations. At current rates of progress, it won’t take 100 years to achieve gender equity. It’ll take 136—with an asterisk.

Why the asterisk? Because we don’t have to stay on cruise control, nor should we want to. Gender equity represents a massive $12 trillion economic opportunity for the world. We have the power to decide our rate of progress. We can choose to augment our velocity toward equity for all. To inform our path forward, let’s take a look at five pivotal gender equity trends from the past year and how the pandemic influenced them—in both good ways and bad.

1. Women on the global agenda

The majority of the rules that govern our society, including tariff policies and student loan programs, are not gender neutral. They are gender ignorant.

Gender mainstreaming helps us overcome gender ignorant policies. By applying the gender equity lens to public policy, we gain direct insight into how our society’s rules and regulations impact different genders.

If every country had centered gender into their economic recovery plans via gender mainstreaming, we could have added $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030. Perhaps more jurisdictions should have followed in the footsteps of Hawaii, which adopted a gender-based economic recovery plan titled “Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs” soon after the pandemic hit. It’s not too late.

Gender economist and the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline, Katica Roy.
Gender economist and the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline, Katica Roy.Courtesy of Pipeline

2. Women in politics

The pandemic led to a record-smashing year for women in U.S. politics. We saw Kamala Harris become the first woman vice president of the U.S. and Kathy Hochul the first woman governor of New York. We also saw a record number of women voted into Congress, where women now hold 27 percent of seats.

Gender equity in politics matters because women are 10 percent more effective legislators and deliver 9 percent more money in federal programs to home districts compared to men politicians, according to a study published by the American Journal of Political Science.

3. Voting rights

We commemorated a bittersweet centennial of the 19th Amendment in August 2020. Despite renewed calls for racial justice, voters—predominantly those of color—battled a spider web of tactics as they sought to cast their ballot. For instance, Milwaukee went from 180 polling locations to five during the April 2020 elections—resulting in long lines that inhibited access to the ballot box.

Also, the Freedom to Vote Act introduced earlier this year by a group of senators beckons hope for electoral integrity. If passed, the act would enhance voting opportunities for all Americans, crack down on suppression tactics, and modernize the voter registration process.

4. The Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment, which states that civil rights may not be denied on the basis of one's sex, turned 96 years old in 2019, but by the end of 2019 it had yet to be ratified by the necessary number of states (38) to become part of the Constitution.

In early 2020, Virginia became the critical 38th state to ratify the ERA. Progress, however, remained stalled in 2021, and the U.S. finds itself among the 24 percentof countries globally without a constitutional provision for gender equity. If passed, the ERA would become the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

5. The gender pay gap

The pandemic widened the gender pay gap by 5 percentage points, dropping the U.S. back to 1998 levels in terms of gender pay equity.

Prior to the pandemic, gender pay equity represented a $512 billion opportunity for the U.S. economy. To expedite our journey to gender equity, we need to pass a true pay equity law—one that shifts the burden of proof for equitable pay from the employee to the employer. Pay inequity will likely intensify without targeted intervention. Women who take a year away from work earn 39 percent less than their counterparts who stay in the workforce, and over 1.5 million women have vanished from the workforce since the start of the pandemic.

The journey toward equity for all

To expedite our journey toward gender equity, businesses must use advanced technology (such as AI and cloud computing) to de-bias the employee lifecycle. Elected officials must gender mainstream the public policies that determine how resources are collected and allocated.

The media must take an active role in rewriting stale gender narratives. It’s not enough to admire—or even agonize over—the problem of inequity. We are sitting on a $3.4 trillion economic opportunity in the U.S. alone. It’s time to move the needle on gender equity.

You can learn more about each of these five trends (plus five additional trends) and the specific commitments we can take to shorten our time to equity here.

Katica Roy is a gender economist and the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline, an award-winning SaaS company that leverages artificial intelligence to identify and drive economic gains through gender equity. Pipeline launched the first gender equity app on Salesforce's AppExchange. The Pipeline platform was named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019 and Fast Company’s 2020 World’s Most Innovative Companies.