The pandemic has posed challenges for workers across the globe over the past year. A new report from PwC, however, claims that women employees have been hit the hardest. Its annual Women in Work Index, published today (5 March), says that progress for women in work could be back to 2017 levels by the end of this year.
PwC’s Women in Work Index measures economic empowerment of women across 33 OECD countries using five indicators; the gender pay gap, labour force participation and the gap between men and women in that participation, and the rates of women’s unemployment and full-time employment.
This year’s findings suggest that the damage caused by the pandemic, as well as the routes government responses and recovery policies have taken, are disproportionately impacting women in these countries. The report has dubbed this a ‘shecession’.
“In order to undo the damage caused by Covid-19 to women in work, even by 2030, progress towards gender equality needs to be twice as fast as its historical rate,” PwC says.
OECD countries have been making consistent gains towards women’s economic empowerment over the past nine years, it adds, but Covid-19 has pushed the overall index back by 2.1 points between 2019 and 2021. The index isn’t expected to recover until 2022, by which point it should have gained back 0.8 points.
Disproportionate childcare duties
Women having to spend more time on childcare than men during the pandemic is one of the reasons for the setback, according to PwC. The UN says that before Covid hit, women were spending an average of six hours more than men on unpaid childcare each week. PwC found that this figure had jumped to an average of almost eight hours per week in the past year.
“This ‘second shift’ equates to 31.5 hours per week; almost as much as an extra full-time job,” says PwC. “This increase in unpaid labour has already reduced women’s contribution to the economy.
“If this extra burden lasts, it will cause more women to leave the labour market permanently, reversing progress towards gender equality and reducing productivity in the economy.”
Ireland’s place on the Women in Work Index
Ireland moved up a few places on this year’s Women in Work Index, rising from 18 to 14. This was mainly down to narrowing the gender pay gap and lessening the unemployment rate for women, PwC says. However, it was beaten to the top 10 by Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Belgium.
“While it is good news that Ireland climbed in the rankings of the latest Women in Work Index, it is disappointing that the latest evidence shows that the rise in unemployment rates for women is larger than it is for men during Covid-19,” PwC says.
“For example, unemployment data released from the OECD for 2020 shows that while both the male and female unemployment rates have increased between 2019 and 2020, the percentage point increase for females is higher.
“The female unemployment rate increased from 4.7pc in 2019 to 6.1pc in 2020 (an increase of 1.4 percentage points), while the male unemployment rate increased from 5.2pc in 2019 to 5.9pc in 2020 (an increase of 0.7 percentage points).”
‘A worrisome story’
Emma Scott, people leader at PwC Ireland, commented: “The setbacks that we are experiencing with Covid-19 in terms of the workforce tell a worrisome story. While the impacts are being felt by everyone across the globe, we are seeing women exiting the workforce at a faster rate than men.
“Women carry a heavier burden than men of unpaid care and domestic work. This has increased during the pandemic and it is limiting women’s time and options to contribute to the economy.”
And though some women will likely return to the workforce after the pandemic, Ger McDonough, people and organisation partner at the company, says that career breaks have long-term impacts on women’s job prospects.
“For employers, the impact of attrition is likely to exacerbate skills shortages, threatening business growth, and compound challenges in meeting diversity and inclusion targets,” McDonough said.
“Organisations can prevent this avoidable loss by engaging all of their people, particularly women, to understand the support they need to stay in work. Practical steps include introducing or updating flexible working arrangements, strengthening the inclusivity of their organisational culture and considering the diversity and inclusion impacts of key decisions, such as restructuring.
“Organisations that take a longer-term view will ensure that they have access to the best talent for a post-Covid world.”