UN celebrates International Women's Day with tough talk on equality in the workforce and at home

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, U.N. Women executive director. Photo by: Ryan Brow / UN Women / CC BY-NC-ND

The gender wage gap and family leave were singled out as two pressing issues that drive all societies worldwide regardless of development status, according to celebrity, private sector and United Nations official speakers at an event Wednesday.

The U.N. commemorated International Women’s Day with a forum held by U.N. Women, less than one week ahead of the launch of the Commission on the Status of Women. It’s the largest intergovernmental and civil society forum focused on gender, and it also provides a space to “assess how far we have come, but how far we need to go,” U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said during the event, titled “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.”

“We need to say clearly that governments are better when there is gender equality in the formation of governments,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres during the forum, speaking from Kenya. “We need to say that parliaments are better when there is gender equality in the formation of parliaments. That companies have better management when there is gender equality in their boards. That societies are better when there is full equality in girls’ access to education and in women and girls’ access to the labor markets.”

How can global development better support women’s career advancement?

Devex career guru Kate Warren shares some advice for employers to better support the advancement of women in their organizations and tips for women pursuing careers in this sector.

The path to achieving equal pay is still a long-term one. The global gender wage gap — or the difference in the amount earned by women and men for similar work — has essentially stalled since 2009 with minimal progress. At this rate, it could take more than 100 years for women to achieve equal pay, as U.N. Women Executive Board President Lana Nusseibeh noted.

“Over 100 years is simply too long. It does not make sense,” she said.

Actor Anne Hathaway, U.N. Women’s global goodwill ambassador, offered a keynote address on family leave, talking about her own experiences as a new mother in the United States. In the U.S., women are entitled to only 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, and new fathers do not receive any federally protected time off from work. A few states, however, including New York and California, have recently created public paid leave programs for all people who want to take family-related time away from work.

Only approximately 50 percent of working age women, compared to 76 percent of men, are employed in the labor force worldwide today, according to U.N. Women. Women, meanwhile, take on 2.5 times more unpaid work than men.

Women’s economic empowerment will continue to take center stage at next week’s CSW, according to Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, the chair of the forum, explaining the gender pay gap is an issue that “persists in all countries, including Iceland.”

Airbnb was among the tech companies — as well as LinkedIn and Google — on hand at the U.N. to offer their take on how gender equality can be measured and creatively tackled in the workforce.

Women make up 55 percent of all Airbnb hosts and have earned a total of $10 billion since the company launched in 2008. This type of informal work can help women globally earn back 20 percent of their pay inequity, according to Anita Roth, the global head of policy research for the online lodging rental site.

Nicole Isaac, the head of U.S. public policy at LinkedIn, noted the gender disparity in the formal workspace and at leadership levels: women only make up 18 percent of all CEOs worldwide. Women also now only outpace their male counterparts in the role of chief human resource officers, she said. LinkedIn is collecting data from their sites on employment and education to track — first in the U.S. and eventually worldwide — which skills employers are looking for, which skills schools train for, and other information.

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.