Why the WEF’s 2020 gender gap report rankings are utterly meaningless

The most glaringly obvious anomaly in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF)’s 2020 Gender Gap report is that Syrian women are supposedly luckier to have a higher health and survival ‘gender gap’ score even though they live 15 years shorter than Aussie women. Go figure?!?

Await the media parroting headlines based on the WEF’s executive summary of the latest 371-page 2020 report on gender equality without any context. Australia slipped in the rankings, so don’t be surprised to see our media slam us without analysing the data behind the claims. Because within the data, it is marginal. Moreover, the basis of the data collection is frankly ridiculous.

We should remind ourselves that the WEF is an organisation that prides itself on rank hypocrisy. It wasn’t so long ago that 1,500 private jets landed in Davos to debate the number one concern at the WEF conference – climate change. As there is no airport at Davos, some took helicopters from Zurich Airport to the summit.

The WEF believes that the economic gender gap will take 257 years to close, up from 202 years in 2018. Technological change is driving a disproportionate effect, with women more highly represented in roles hit hardest by AI (e.g. retail). What’s more, not enough women are entering professions where wage growth is fastest. It is most likely the old white male patriarchy that forced women to go into retail rather than of their own volition.

It would be all too easy to chastise Australia for falling from 39th to 44th position, but the reality is that we improved our overall score versus 2018. Before the luvvies lavish praise on New Zealand, which climbed two places to 6th but saw its aggregate score decline, Australia is only 8.5% below NZ. So is that worth beating ourselves up for?

In the subcategory of Economic Participation and Opportunity, Australia ranks 49th vs NZ at 27th. Even though there is only a 4% difference. Liberal heads will explode to know that Trump’s America ranks above NZ.

In terms of educational attainment, Australia ranks =1st, despite the quality of our education system leaving much to be desired. Although it is a bit disingenuous as 38 countries are equal first. We just happen to benefit from alphabetical ordering.

Australia ranks 104th in health & survival but it is less than 1% difference to the 39 first placed countries (which include Angola and Syria). Although if we take Syria as a reference market, the average healthy life expectancy for women is 59.5 years vs 52.5 for men meaning that the gender gap helps score the war-torn country higher than Australia. Australia is 74.1 and 71.3 years respectively. Still,  FNF Media is sure Syrian men and women would gladly trade places with Australians even if, in this instance, the gender gap narrowed on this metric.

Note that even last placed China is less than 4% off the top spot in the health and survival gender gap subcategory. Precious little insight.

Political empowerment is where Australia gets smashed with a paltry rank of 57th. Presumably, if Australia had more female politicians then perhaps our rank would catapult. Should the voting public be admonished if Dr Keryn Phelps was beaten by Dave Sharma? Do voters select candidates on ability or genitalia?

Of interest, all one need do is a simple weighted average of the four subcategories to come up with the aggregated ranking scores provided by WEF.

If we stripped out political empowerment, Australia is within 1% of NZ and 4% of where #1 ranked Iceland is. Hardly anything to feel triggered by. Our score would be 0.898 vs the 0.731 awarded. NZ would be 90.8% vs 0.799 awarded. Iceland would be 93.5% vs 87.7%. Why haven’t the media done their homework?

In short, the supposed gap WEF thinks will take 99.5 years to close won’t be anything near that for Australia.

Which stands to reason, shouldn’t some categories be weighted higher than others in terms of closing a gender gap? Surely women in one part of the world might rank economic participation at 50% as opposed to 25%. Given health is so close across 153 countries measured, is it worth ditching that as a metric?

Between countries, maybe Zambian women place 100% emphasis in their struggle on economic wellbeing but Icelandic women 100% on political empowerment. If that was so, Zambian women would rank 0.831 vs Icelandic women at 0.701. The most value that could be added by the WEF would be to ask women in each country what was important to them. That way we wouldn’t have to standardise rules and regulations. Because this report effectively says that we should all aspire to be Iceland even if ambitious women in Botswana don’t wish to seek a career in politics.

The WEF concluded the 371-page report with,

The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of the global gender gap and of efforts and insights to close it. The index offers a benchmarking tool to track progress and to reveal best practices across countries and subjects. This year the report finds that the gender gap has closed slightly since last year, yet it will still require 99.5 years to achieve full parity at the current pace.”

Unfortunately if one flips through to the country profiles, there are so many statistical gaps in certain categories making meaningful comparisons even more meaningless than they already are.

Therein lies the fatal flaw in this doorstopper. Data can be used in ways to paint a picture. It is so easy to put Australia in a negative light but in most metrics, while our rank may have fallen our raw scores have improved. But don’t be surprised if the media just tells you how bad we are. Narratives are easy to draw from a document that proves the adage of “garbage in, garbage out!” Yet don’t be surprised to see politicians making hay over the findings, if we can even call them that!

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