By: Lynne King Smith
From job loss, inaccessible and unaffordable childcare, to regressive gender equality in the workforce, women have been dealt a tremendous blow during the pandemic and throughout the world’s crawling recovery. The pandemic’s gender effect could have heavy costs to society over time, but by increasing awareness and educating now on the ways to improve, we can get back to restoring progress.
COVID-19 Disproportionately Affected Women in the Workforce
Before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, women were steadily claiming their rightful spots in corporate America. Between January 2015 and December 2019, women in senior-vice-president positions trended upward, increasing from 23 to 28 percent; and women in C-suite positions increased from 17 to 21 percent. When the pandemic set in, these numbers began to decline. While one in five men have considered scaling back in their careers, or leaving the workplace entirely, the number of women is higher at one in four. And while all working women have been affected by the pandemic in some way, the groups that have endured the most challenges have been working mothers, women in senior management positions and Black women.
Women Report Feeling More Pressure at Work Than Their Male Counterparts
Companies have made efforts to support their employees during the crisis, however the prevalence of workplace burnout and increased pressure has taken a clear toll on women in particular. According to Women in the Workplace 2020, LeanIn.Org, and McKinsey, nearly 40% of mothers, and only about 32% of fathers, report exhaustion in the workplace. For senior-level women, about 54% report exhaustion, compared to approximately 41% of senior-level men. And between Black men and Black women, the imbalanced trend continues, where about 40% of Black women versus 29% of Black men report exhaustion. These numbers represent a clear need for companies to reexamine their expectations and pivot to establishing more reasonable norms that foster thriving employees.
Making A Strong Effort—NOW!—To Improve Gender Equity Could Add $13 Trillion to Global GDP
It’s undeniable that women have been significantly more impacted by the pandemic than men. If little to no gender equity improvements are made, global GDP in 2030 would be $1 trillion below where it could have been if the COVID-19 crisis had the same employment ramifications between men and women. However, if investments are made in education, family planning, maternal health, digital and financial inclusion, and correcting the burden of unpaid dependent care during the pandemic, the global GDP could see an increase of $13 trillion by 2030, a drastic difference when compared to the scenario of taking no action on gender equity.
We Can’t Advance Gender Equity Without Noting How COVID-19 Changed Work Forever
Due to the momentum of automation and digitization during the pandemic, how we work, and the ways in which work can be done, has been forever transformed. With new occupational advancements, comes the necessity to grow and evolve to keep up with the continuous changes. According to The Future of Work after COVID-19, women, members of ethnic minority groups, and workers with less than a college degree in Europe and the United States are most likely to face challenges reentering and reengaging in the workforce, due to needing to learn new skills, or even exploring new career paths. While it’s estimated that an increase of about 45% of men will need to make occupation transitions, women pursuing new types of work will increase about 170%.
Though much work is needed to be done to see progress in workplace gender equity, it would be a disservice to ignore the positive changes that our “new normal” for work has brought. Families are spending more time together, work-life/balance has become more attainable, and topics that were once taboo are now more common in conversation; from mental health, working moms, to the reality that moms are now choosing whether they stay home to be with their children, society has come a long way in expressing open mindedness and accepting different ways of thriving.