Breaking barriers: navigating the gender gap in the 21st century 

By Asia Menendez


The gender gap is a persistent and widespread issue worldwide. It concerns the inequalities between men and women in various aspects of life, including work, education, and political participation.

Over the past years, these issues have become more prominent in the socio-political level. Beginning with an initial motivation tied to upholding human dignity without any form of discrimination, this topic has gradually gained importance as a fundamental pillar for constructing a healthier society and a stronger, more effective work and business environment. 

Despite progress made in recent decades, the gender gap remains a significant problem that requires a deep analysis and decisive actions.


The gender gap is a pervasive issue that can be observed across various sectors of society. Gap in any area between women and men in terms of their levels of participation, access, rights, remuneration or benefits.

Today, inequalities primarily concern labor market participation. The current global labour force participation rate for women is just under 47%. For men, it’s 72%. Not to mention that according to the 2016 ILO-Gallup survey, a substantial percentage of individuals still consider it inappropriate for a woman to have a paid job outside the household. To be precise, this sentiment is held by 20% of men and 14% of women worldwide.1

Another prominent manifestation of this gap is wage inequality, where women consistently earn less than men for equivalent work, resulting in what is commonly referred to as the pay gap. The gender pay gap in the EU stands at 12.7 % in 2021 and has only changed minimally over the last decade. It means that women earn 13.0 % on average less per hour than men. This wage disparity accumulates over time, significantly impacting women's economic well-being.

The gender pay gap encompasses a broader concept than mere pay discrimination, as it  includes a wide range of disparities that women encounter in terms of accessing job opportunities, advancing in their careers, and receiving equitable rewards. These disparities include for example the so-called ‘glass ceiling’, that enables women to attain top positions within both public and private companies. It is a crucial factor in determining pay levels with fewer than 8% of CEOs in major companies being women. When it comes to professions with the most significant disparities in hourly earnings in the EU, management stands out, as women in managerial roles earn 23% less than their male counterparts.

Significant variations exist among European Union countries. The gender pay disparity spans from under 5% in Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia, Italy, and Poland to over 18% in Germany, Austria, Estonia, and Latvia. A reduced gender pay gap in particular countries doesn't necessarily imply greater gender equality in their labor markets. Such a scenario can arise in countries where fewer women are employed, and mainly those with higher earning potential join the workforce.2


Additionally, the gender gap becomes apparent in political participation, where women tend to be underrepresented in political offices and corporate boardrooms. This underrepresentation diminishes their influence in policy-making and decision-making environments.

Moreover, women often bear the burden of unpaid labor, including household and caregiving responsibilities. This unequal distribution of unpaid work limits their opportunities for full participation in the labor market.

In the field of education, despite significant progress, gender disparities persist, especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines and academic leadership roles. These disparities hinder the full realization of women's potential in these fields.

The causes of the gender gap are complex and interrelated.

Gender stereotypes are one of the main contributing factors, perpetuating and reinforcing disparities in various aspects of society, including employment opportunities, income, and leadership roles. Social and cultural expectations regarding gender capabilities and roles influence people's choices and opportunities.

Throughout history, the status of women has undergone significant transformations and witnessed important social changes, especially concerning women’s work. From a stark gender divide in the 19th and 20th centuries, when women were confined to only domestic roles, to women entering the workforce during industrialization, and the two World Wars, and the feminist movements of the 1960s. From the 1970s, there was a gradual extension of civil rights, overcoming patriarchal cultural norms. 

Today, although significant milestones have been achieved throughout history, the discrimination and stereotype that views women as more suited for roles related to household and childcare has not been completely overcome, even in the most developed countries, and gender equality remains a distant goal. Especially in the world of work, in the last twenty years, gender equality has seen encouraging improvements, but there is still much progress to be made. As highlighted in the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, it will still take 132 years to achieve genuine gender equality.3

To address the gender gap, actions are needed on multiple fronts.

Salary transparency, pay equity policies, and cultural change are essential in reducing the pay gap. There are also many concrete actions that companies can take to minimize it, since individuals in decision-making roles can make a difference by their sensitivity to the issue. Targeted efforts to encourage women to actively engage in politics, such as gender quotas and mentorship programs, can improve female representation.

Reviewing and supporting policies and laws to address gender inequality, including paid parental leave and access to childcare services, can help reduce the gender gap (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). Take concrete steps to ensure workplace well-being, including work-life balance for all, including women. Also promoting and raise awareness of a gender diversity education and combating gender stereotypes from a young age is essential to create a fairer society.4


The European Union is attentive to these issues and demonstrates it by launching initiatives aimed at addressing these challenges, such as the EU's Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 that aims to achieve a significant progress towards gender-equal Europe by 2025. It focuses on ending gender-based violence, challenging stereotypes, closing gender gaps in the labor market, achieving equal participation across sectors, addressing pay and pension gaps, and attaining gender balance in decision-making and politics. This strategy has already made significant progress in gender equality through equal treatment legislation, gender mainstreaming, and specific measures for women's advancement.

The objective is to create a Union in which both women and men have the freedom to follow their preferred life paths, enjoy equal opportunities for success, and can equally engage in and lead our European society.5


The gender gap is a complex issue that requires global commitment to address. Nations must focus on this, not only due to its inherent unfairness but also because a multitude of studies indicate that enhanced gender equality results in improved economic performance.6

Progress can only be achieved through a combination of cultural changes, policies, and individual actions. In a world where gender equality is a crucial goal, it is essential for everyone to work together to overcome the gender gap and create a world where everyone's rights and opportunities are equal.