Denmark’s men’s soccer team refuses raise till women get equal pay. A closer look at the gender gap in sports

This year’s WNBA top draft pick Caitlin Clark’s salary — $338,056 over the next four years — is a fraction of the $55 million contract signed by Victor Wembanyama, last year’s top NBA draft pick.

Denmark’s men’s national soccer team made headlines last week not because of a world record-shattering feat or anything remotely similar to a sporting achievement. 

Rather, they made front page, trended on social media, and sparked conversations when they refused a pay raise and demanded equal pay for the women’s team. Moreover, they accepted a 15% pay cut in their insurance coverage to allow their female counterparts in the women’s national team to receive equal pay and a 50% raise in their insurance coverage.

Members of Denmark men’s national soccer team. Photo from Women’s Agenda

CNN reported that in 2023, soccer players at the 2023 Women’s World Cup  on average earned just 25 cents for every dollar earned by men. “Still, that is an improvement: last time, in 2019, it was less than eight cents per dollar, according to data provided by world governing body FIFA and global players’ union FIFPRO.”

The report continued that prize money for the women’s tournament “has nearly quadrupled since 2019, the last time it was held. But this year, 2023, the women will still cumulatively receive $330 million less than the men did at the 2022 World Cup.”

Paris 2024 will be the first-ever Olympics to achieve gender parity. For every sport at the games, there will be the same number of male and female athletes participating, making it the biggest gender equal sporting event in history.

The Denmark men’s soccer team shouldn’t have made headlines. Heck, the team shouldn’t have been making such demands because the pay gap should no longer exist in the first place.

But after all this time, we still live, sadly, in a largely unequal world.

134 years to gender parity

Compared to last year, there has been “very little progress” toward narrowing the gender gap, as per the recently released Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The report had 146 countries participating in this year’s edition and still measured four dimensions: Health and Survival gender gap, Educational Attainment gap, Economic Participation and Opportunity gap, and Political Empowerment gap.

Of the four gender gaps across the 146 nations, the Health and Survival gender gap is the most closed at 96%, followed by the Educational Attainment gap (94.9%), the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap (60.5%), and the Political Empowerment gap (22.5%).

Considering all dimensions and the set of 101 countries continuously covered by the report since 2006, as well as the current pace at which each gap is closed, the Global Gender Gap stands at 68.5% closed and it will take 134 years to reach gender parity, according to the WEF. That is in faraway 2158—which is roughly five generations from now.

Gender gap in workforce representation

The persistent disproportionate representation of women in sectors which have the tendency to have higher paying jobs such as technology and infrastructure, is one of the reasons for the gender pay gap, as per the WEF report.

This year, women made up only 28.2% of the STEM workforce, but the picture is improving for AI Engineering talent according to LinkedIn data. Men still outnumber women, but over the past four years the share of female AI talent has “increased significantly.”

Women are still underrepresented in the workforce at 42% – and women make up just under a third of leadership roles (31.7%), according to LinkedIn. Photo by Mimi Thian from Unsplash.

Furthermore, LinkedIn data revealed that gender gaps in online professional networks lead to men typically having “larger networks and stronger networks than women.” Stronger networks are associated with increased probability of career progression and receive more recruiter outreach. One silver lining, notwithstanding, is that women having “weaker” ties has been linked to greater job mobility.

Overall, women are still underrepresented in the workforce at 42%—and women make up just a hairline under a third of leadership roles (31.7%), according to LinkedIn.

Gender gap in sports

Over in sports, the gender pay gap was the talk of the town in the US a few months ago, when it was revealed that WNBA top draft pick Caitlin Clark’s salary—US$338,056 over the next four years—was a fraction of the US$55 million contract signed by Victor Wembanyama, last year’s top NBA draft pick, according to a New York Times report. Many people in the sports world and beyond were left shocked and dismayed.

The disparity between the two contracts elicited a backlash that it even prompted critical comments from US President Joe Biden. “Right now we’re seeing that even if you’re the best, women are not paid their fair share,” he said. “It’s time that we give our daughters the same opportunities as our sons and ensure women are paid what they deserve.”

WNBA top draft pick Caitlin Clark’s salary—$338,056 over the next four years—was a fraction of the $55 million contract signed by Victor Wembanyama, last year’s top NBA draft pick.
Photo from NCAA

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, praised President Biden’s statement, writing on X (formerly Twitter): “Exactly,” then proceeded to thank the President and call for protecting a policy that ensures equal access for women in education.

Over at the Olympics, Paris 2024 will be the first-ever Olympics to achieve gender parity. For every sport at the games, there will be the same number of male and female athletes participating, according to an article on Revolt London. This will make Paris 2024 the biggest gender equal sporting event in history.

Despite these remarkable strides, however, women still don’t have an equal playing field in sports. As per the same Revolt London report, even at the most elite athlete level, only two females—Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams—figured in the Forbes 2021 top 50 highest-paid athletes. 

Only two females—Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams—appeared in Forbes 2021 top 50 highest-paid athletes. Photo from Getty Images

The biggest disparity in gender pay gap is in football, where the average yearly salary of a male footballer who plays for a top-league club in the UK is £2.8 million, compared with just £30k for an equivalent female footballer playing in the Women’s’ Super League. In basketball, the average salary of a WNBA player is 110 times less than that of an NBA player. Female athletes then rely heavily on off-field endorsements, but these only account for 0.4% of all sports sponsorships. 

More than the gender pay gap, women still face a marked lack of support and consideration in sports. Most sports apparel, for instance, are still not being designed with women’s physique in mind. A staggering 40% of elite female athletes, for example, have reported breast pain, with many of them opting to wear two bras to combat this.

In April, Nike revealed the kits that will be worn by the US track and field team at the 2024 Olympics. It was met with immense backlash, with critics calling it “patriarchal,” as per Time magazine, due to its high-cut pantyline and “skimpiness.”

“Women’s kits should be in service to performance, mentally and physically. If this outfit was truly beneficial to physical performance, men would wear it,” wrote Lauren Fleshman, a retired professional track and field athlete, on Instagram. “This is a costume born of patriarchal forces that are no longer welcome or needed to get eyes on women’s sports.”

Some brands have finally been getting it right, like Adidas APAC. The brand found out that 92% of women find it difficult to focus on their workout when their apparel doesn’t fit properly. This prompted the sports apparel giant to consult women to create its spring-summer ‘23 bras and leggings collection – featuring the widest range of sizes to date and launching with a three-day #BeSupportedBeYou retreat attended by 100 sports women trying out the collection.

Where the Philippines stands in closing the gender gap

The Philippines rank 25th in 2024 with a gender parity score of 77.9%, the second highest in the Eastern Asia and the Pacific cluster after New Zealand which is in fourth place globally.  

Despite our country doing well in the report, it’s worth noting that we once ranked as high as 5th in 2013 and 6th for three consecutive years during the first three iterations of the Global Gender Gap Report from 2006 to 2008.

Source: World Economic Forum

This year, the country tumbled nine spots from 19th place in 2023, stemming from losses in economic parity and a reduction in the share of women ministers and lack of progress in terms of women holding parliamentary seats. 

Remarkably, at least, the Philippines has achieved full parity across all Educational Attainment indicators, as per the report.

When it comes to Economic Participation and Opportunity, its score of 77.5% is -1.4 percentage points lower than in 2023, despite achieving parity in professional and technical workers (100%) and recording progress towards parity in labor-force participation to an all-time high (69.3%). 

Closing the gender gap

So how do we close the global gender gap? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution and the picture is nuanced across different regions, the WEF stated. There are, however, some measures that can spell a difference.

Closing the gaps in politics and work, for instance, means more equitable decision-making and better growth—and the latter could lead to a 20% rise in global GDP, according to a World Bank estimate noted in the report.

In closing the gender gap, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and the picture is nuanced across different regions. Photo by Becca Tapert from Unsplash

Investment is required, especially in developing economies that have recorded bigger gaps. Closing the gender gap requires a global effort. The estimated collective investment required to reach gender parity by 2030 would be USD$360 billion per year.

Policy and legislation are crucial. Since 1971, the number of countries that have adopted pay equity laws has increased from 2 to 98, according to World Bank data cited in the report. But only 20% of those economies have implemented mechanisms to redress the pay gap.

Closing the gender gap requires a global effort. Specifically, the estimated collective investment required to reach gender parity by 2030 would be USD$360 billion per year. Photo by Levi Guzman from Unsplash

Businesses also need to play their part through effective diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and upskilling.

Gender parity in the workforce can be advanced through formal measures like quotas and policies, as well as informal means such as professional networks.

You can download the full 2024 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report here.

Associate Editor

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