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The Real Cost of Gender Bias

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Gender bias and the gender pay gap are a stark reality for women worldwide. WDS contributing writer Cristina Georgiana Popa shares an overview of the impact of gender bias worldwide, including here in Switzerland, and practical ways we can close the gender pay gap, fight against bias, and move towards a more gender equal world.


At Women in Digital Switzerland, an important part of our mission is tackling gender inequality. Despite much progress being made to advance women’s empowerment and equal opportunity in the workplace today, persistent gender bias continues to hamper women’s progress, and the gender pay gap remains a serious challenge worldwide.

So, what does gender bias mean and why is this important for truly achieving gender equality?

What are biases?

Biases are the unintentional, automatic and subconscious prejudices that individuals hold towards certain groups of people, ideas or things. These biases can affect how people perceive each other in the workplace, and can manifest in different forms, such as bias against race, ethnicity, gender, age or disability, to name a few.

Why do gender biases occur?

Gender biases occur for multiple reasons, such as stereotyping, power dynamics and institutional factors and influences. One significant reason is a lack of awareness and education.

And, unfortunately, they can cause significant damage. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, it will take 132 years to reach full gender parity. In 2022, only 68 per cent of the gender gap was closed, and this varies greatly between regions. Progress towards closing the gender gap stalled in most countries last year, with merely 30 of the 145 economies studied in the report registering progress in closing the gender gap by at least 1 percentage point.

"It will take 132 years to reach full gender parity"

The Gender Gap closed to date, by region (WEF Global Gender Gap Index 2022)

The Impact of Gender Bias in STEM

If we look in particular at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field, there’s an interesting picture: a 2017 study by the European Institute for Gender Equality (featured in a UNESCO Science Report) found that closing the gender gap in STEM education would have a positive impact on economic growth in the EU, contributing to an increase in GDP per capita of 0.7 to 0.9 per cent across the bloc by 2030, and of 2.2 to 3.0 per cent by 2050. The study predicted a closure of the gender pay gap by 2050, by which time 6.3 to 10.5 million jobs will likely be added to the European economy, about 70 per cent of which will be occupied by women.

Closing the gender gap in STEM education in the EU would contribute to an increase in GDP per capita of 0.7 to 0.9 per cent across the bloc by 2030, and of 2.2 to 3.0 per cent by 2050.

Furthermore, while Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a key role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, women's participation in these fields remains limited compared to men. In 2019, according to a 2018 survey of nearly 1,400 CEOs in 91 countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers, companies lamented ‘a shortage of skilled talent to clean, integrate and extract value from big data and move beyond baby steps toward AI’. The report also found that the issue was not only a matter of recruiting and developing AI specialists and data scientists, but also a question of cultivating a workforce ready to use AI-based systems’. Yet, despite a skills shortage in the majority of fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, women still account for a mere 28 per cent of engineering graduates and 40 per cent of graduates in computer science and informatics, according to UNESCO.

The consequences of the gender gap in Switzerland

If we take a glimpse at specific aspects from the gender gap in the workforce, the situation looks even more grim. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2022, stress levels were 4 per cent higher in women compared to men. Unfortunately, this adds to the burden of mental and emotional disorders.

In Switzerland, there’s much work still to be done to achieve gender equality in the workplace. According to the Women in Work Index 2022 by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which examines gender disparities, female labour force participation, the female unemployment rate and the gender pay gap, among other indicators, Switzerland ranks 14th in the Index of 33 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economies. In particular, progress towards gender equality in the workplace has been significantly hindered by the COVID-19 crisis. Within the OECD countries, the pandemic resulted in the unemployment of 5.1 million women, partly due to increased demands for childcare and education in the home when schools and childcare facilities closed down.

In Switzerland, there is a notable discrepancy in employment rates between genders. While 89 per cent of men work full-time, only 56 per cent of women are engaged in full-time employment, placing the country second to last among OECD nations in this regard. However, Switzerland ranks third among OECD countries in terms of women's workforce participation, with 80 percent of women actively participating in the labour market.

In Switzerland, women account for only 26 per cent of top managerial roles. The gender pay gap is at 17 per cent, compared to the OECD average of 14 per cent.

With regard to leadership positions, women account for only 26 percent of top managerial roles in the Swiss economy. This imbalance is also reflected in salary discrepancies, with Switzerland’s gender pay gap at 17 per cent compared to the OECD average of 14 per cent. Eliminating this gap would mean Swiss women could earn an additional CHF 23 billion per year. At the current rate of progress, it would take 63 years to close this pay gap.

Enhancing gender equality in the workplace would yield significant benefits for the entire Swiss economy. If Switzerland achieved a similar employment rate for women as Sweden, for example, its gross domestic product (GDP) could increase by CHF 33 billion, equivalent to a boost of 6 per cent. To make this a reality, the labour market must provide greater flexibility for women who desire it. So, how do we make this possible?

What can companies do?

There are many ways we can work against the biases that continue to prevent us from achieving equality. Here are a few practical ways that can have a significant and long-lasting effect:

  • Promote awareness and education: Conduct training programs and workshops to increase awareness about gender biases, stereotypes and their impact. Provide education on unconscious bias and promote inclusive behaviors.

  • Implement inclusive policies: Establish policies that promote gender equality, such as equal pay for equal work, flexible work arrangements and anti-discrimination measures. Foster an inclusive work culture that values diversity and respects individuals' differences.

  • Ensure fairness in recruitment and promotion: Implement objective and unbiased recruitment and promotion processes. Use blind screening techniques, standardized criteria, and diverse interview panels to minimize bias and increase fairness.

  • Provide mentorship and sponsorship programs: Establish mentoring programs to support the professional growth and development of women and other underrepresented groups. Encourage senior leaders to sponsor and advocate for diverse talent.

What can we do?

As women in the workforce or who want to be engaged in the workforce, there are also many things we can do to challenge systemic and persistent gender bias. Here are a few ideas:

  • Build confidence and assertiveness: Develop self-confidence and assertiveness to navigate and challenge biases. Believe in your abilities and communicate your ideas and achievements effectively.

  • Seek out mentors and allies: Find mentors, both men and women, who can provide guidance, support and advocacy. Allies within the workplace can help amplify your voice and advocate for equal opportunities.

  • Lead by example: Demonstrate your skills, expertise and leadership abilities through your work. Serve as a role model for other women, challenging stereotypes and biases through your achievements and professionalism.

  • Speak up against bias: When you witness gender biases or discriminatory practices, speak up respectfully and assertively. Address the issue directly, educate others about the impact of biases, and advocate for fair treatment.

  • Continuously learn and develop: Invest in your professional growth through continuous learning and skill development. Stay updated with industry trends and advancements, positioning yourself as a valuable and knowledgeable professional.

Abolishing biases in the workforce is not only a matter of justice and fairness, but a strategic imperative for unleashing the untapped potential of diverse talents, fostering innovation, and creating a truly inclusive and thriving environment. Let’s keep going to make gender equality a reality.




Written by Cristina Georgiana Popa. Edited by Natalie Alexander Julien.

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