Because of COVID-19 the global economy is in the worst recession in nearly a century, but many people believe it is more of a shecession – a period of economic downturn which disproportionately affects women more than men. Globally, women’s job losses are currently 1.8 times higher than men’s.
The term shecession was coined by the president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in the US, C Nicole Mason, who is concerned about the millions of women who have lost their jobs or left the workforce in the last year.
“Many women, women of colour, have been unemployed for 28 weeks or more. So the longer women stay out of the workforce the harder it is for them to get a job or return to the workforce. That will definitely have a long-term impact on their long-term economic security and wellbeing, and their earnings,” Mason explained.
Many of the jobs lost are in the hospitality, retail, arts, entertainment and recreation sectors, which employ large numbers of women and are heavily affected by lockdown measures because of their face-to-face nature.
Women are also being discriminated against because of their parental status, with women who are pregnant or on maternity leave reportedly more likely to be pushed towards furlough or redundancy.
At home, care responsibilities are falling on women more than men which contributes to women suffering from burnout and causing them to leave the workforce at a higher rate. This negatively impacts progress towards gender equality and stunts economic growth.
PwC reports that COVID-19 threatens to reverse the positive steps that have been made towards gender equality over the last decade and that if more work is not done to curb the effects then more and more women will leave the workforce for good.
They assert that the benefits of supporting women in the workforce are immense: increasing female employment rates across the OECD could boost OECD Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by US$6 trillion.
Current data for 2020 indicates that Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden were the top three performing OECD countries in PwC’s Women in Work Index. In New Zealand in 2019, (the most recent year for which there is complete data) the gender pay gap was at 7% and the benefit to the national economy by closing the gender pay gap was estimated at $4 billion. During this time, 85% of men and 77% of women were in the workforce, and women made up 38% of board representation.
There are fears that the impact of COVID-19 on female progress will continue to grow, but there are ways in which the effects can be lessened. Governments and businesses can take action to empower women and enable them to continue working, while also supporting their workplace progression and take up of leadership positions.
PwC has tips for businesses to support women’s economic recovery: https://www.pwc.co.uk/services/economics/insights/women-in-work-index.html