One in four women considered leaving the workforce due to Covid-19, attributing it to increased inflexibility, stress, and caregiving responsibilities. Research shows that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Data from the United States and India suggests that the rate of job losses for women stands at 5.7% as against 3.1% for men. Although women account for 39% of global employment, they have undergone 54% of the overall job losses due to this pandemic.

The issues behind the numbers

A significant factor driving these statistics is that women disproportionately carry the burden of unpaid work at home. The added responsibility of household chores and childcare during the pandemic, coupled with blurred work-from-home timings and inflexible working conditions have taken a massive toll on women. Furthermore, many women (and men) have been at the receiving end of unfair treatment at home, with some even facing abuse and domestic violence. United Nations reveals that cases of domestic violence against women have increased by 20% after the Covid-19 lockdown.

Delving deeper and finding solutions

McKinsey has identified three broad areas that can be addressed to reduce the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce.

  1. The first area tackles the issue of unpaid childcare. The report calls for reducing the gender imbalance in responsibility for care and suggests offering more recognition for unpaid work. Other measures could be family-friendly policies that allow more flexible work timings, re-evaluation of performance reviews to take into account such responsibility for care, etc.
  2. The second area discusses the issue of digital and financial inclusion. The report suggests that many women are at an immediate disadvantage because they lack access to the technology required to navigate everyday life and work in the pandemic. The solution broadly entails improving digital infrastructure and enabling women to access the required technology to reduce gender inequalities.
  3. The third area highlights the attitudinal biases against women in the workforce. Counter measures focus on questioning deep-rooted attitudes about women’s role in society, and normalizing the idea of working women with equal pay, equal responsibilities, and equal opportunities as those of men. The report suggests engaging with campaigns and activities to discuss the idea that more women in the workforce would lead to economic and social progress.

Creating change, on the ground

A few organizations have acknowledged these challenges and taken steps to address them. Notable among them is Unilever’s ‘Global Domestic Violence and Abuse Policy’ which offers employees access to more flexible working conditions, ‘safe leave’ options, and counselling and support services, if needed. The policy is gender-neutral and encourages employees to ask for help if they face abuse.

Examples like this show how we can further the gains made in women’s participation in the workforce. They also help translate the ideal of gender equality into concrete steps that can be practically implemented, to bring more women out of the shadow of the pandemic.

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