While multiple reports suggest working women are disproportionately affected due to the pandemic, it’s time to rewrite our gender playbooks.
The rampant effects of the pandemic has led to a global phenomenon called ‘shecession’ where the pandemic-induced economic crisis is affecting more women than men. Data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) revealed that women were nearly twice as likely as men to lose their jobs. And a study conducted by consulting and analytics firm Economix Consulting Group (ECG) finds the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted 44% of women’s salaries. As much as 60% of Indian women working part-time jobs and 37% of full-time employees faced pay cuts amidst the pandemic.
A whopping 60% reported a worsening state of mental health, ECG’s research report on the impact of COVID-19 on urban working women in India ran a pan-India survey among various professions ranging from the private sector, academic professionals, entrepreneurs, and medical professionals to understand the pandemic’s effect. It looked at various factors like working status, professional and personal workload, productivity, income, job losses, and domestic support systems.
Many women let go of familiar daily schedules. Women working seven to ten hours a day in the pre-COVID-19 times have now reduced to 35%. Between the two waves of COVID-19, 14% of women surveyed were compelled to switch to part-time jobs. Another 10% work less than four days a week, which were both attributed to declining business activity and the burden of household chores.
On the other hand, those working more than 10 hours a day or having no fixed work timings also increased from four to 14%. Women working seven days a week increased by three percent. Despite the ongoing pandemic, 36% of women continued to commute using two-wheelers and cars, to work.
The recovery rate also revealed a vast gender-based difference. In fact, women are continuing to lose jobs while men’s employment has neared pre-pandemic levels. Two million more women are likely to suffer job loss in 2021.
Globally too, the struggle for working women continues. An article observes that nearly three million women left the U.S. workforce during the pandemic, as many have had to make tough choices between careers and families.
“Although we might like to think most of these women will reenter the workforce post-pandemic, the reality of highly technical fields is that qualified women may be discouraged from returning due to the perception that their skills have become obsolete. Unless we address this issue head-on, the already stubborn gender gap in technical professions like IT will only continue to wide,” Roz Ho, VP and global head of software at HP author of the article said.
Researchers from Boston Consulting Group, which surveyed more than 3,000 people in the US and Europe, found that working women currently spend an average of 15 hours a week more on unpaid domestic labour than men. many campaigners believe there will be a long-term impact on women’s work and home lives as a result of the coronavirus. A recent United Nations study even warned that the pandemic could dilute decades of advancement on gender equality.
But beyond these negative effects, organizations can take steps to make a positive impact. Fortunately, more companies are committed to gender diversity as a top priority—up from 74% of companies in 2015 to 87% of companies in 2019, according to a recent McKinsey report.
According to experts, the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles are a constructive place to start. Specifically, an organization must commit to equality and a culture of inclusivity and empowerment. Their approach should include the following:
#1 Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.
#2 Treat all women and men fairly at work—respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination.
#3 Ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all women and men workers.
#4 Promote education, training and professional development for women.
#5 Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women.
#6 Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy.
#7 Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality.
These recommendations provide for the contextual and structural conditions which create more positive options for women—and each is a tremendous commitment.
In addition, companies can take a holistic approach to wellbeing—for all employees. A significant trend today is toward companies which are investing broadly in employee wellbeing—offering all kinds of support from emergency childcare, flexible working arrangements and mindfulness apps to financial and physical fitness educational programs.
When constructive programs, practices and policies are in place, mentorship can be a powerful way to reinforce positive experiences. Relationships are a critical element of health, wellbeing and success.
To conclude, While women professionals are at the crossroads, especially in the lingering pandemic landscape, it’s time to rewrite our gender playbooks so that they do more to change the fabric of everyday work life by encouraging relentless execution, fresh ideas, and courageous personal actions. Needless to say then the choices companies make today will have consequences on gender equality in the long term.