Covid-19 has not only had devastating health consequences; since March 2020 we have seen that the economic repercussions of the pandemic are also placing unprecedented pressure on the world of work.
But recent research suggests that in, the United Kingdom, this pressure isn’t being distributed equally across the workforce. To date, women have suffered a larger fall in earnings and are losing their jobs in greater numbers than men during the Covid-19 pandemic, indicating that progress in closing gender pay gaps may slow or even reverse at a time when this progress is needed most.
There are many reasons for this imbalance. Women are more likely than men to work in social sectors, such as hospitality and retail, which have been some of the hardest hit by social distancing measures. Having had to either completely stop operations or significantly alter their practices, and largely unable to offer remote working opportunities to employees, these sectors have seen large numbers of employees either placed on furlough or let go.
On top of this, since lockdown measures were put in place and school closures announced, it has also been reported that women in the UK are bearing the brunt of additional childcare and housework. The expectation of care provision is the single most significant barrier to women’s economic participation globally. Already accounting for three-quarters of the part-time labour force, women were hit hard when part-time jobs saw a 70% decrease in the first three months of the pandemic. As schools, daycare centres and elderly care options shut down to stem the spread of the virus, women across industries saw the support they required to maintain employment removed.
With working women in Europe and North America contributing between 35% and 45% of their country’s GDP, it is vital that the realities of women’s economic position and new working requirements are considered as plans for economic recovery are created. Looking ahead, companies should not plan to go back to processes and ways of working that were the status quo before the pandemic, but rather should use this moment as an opportunity to review and modernise workplace standards.
As many employees continue to take on additional care responsibilities, workplace flexibility will remain crucial. Managers should acknowledge that shift patterns may need to be reassessed so that companies can get the most out of their employee’s while being sensitive to non-work obligations. When attracting new employees, the changing preferences of candidates in light of the pandemic should also be carefully considered to ensure a diverse talent pool.
With more women than men now pursuing higher education in the UK, it is critical that businesses carefully consider recruitment strategies and employee benefits that will attract women to join their workforce going forward. What is good for women is good for economic growth and resilience. Not only will creating more inclusive workplace requirements assist women’s economic empowerment, but it will also support an inclusive and successful post-COVID-19 recovery.