As the pandemic continues to affect lives and livelihoods around the world, it’s clear that COVID-19 and its economic fallout are disproportionately affecting women.
According to a report by management consultancy McKinsey & Company and the women’s campaign group LeanIn.Org, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Although women make up 39% of global employment, they account for 54% of overall job losses as a result of coronavirus.
“Women — especially women of colour — are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardising their financial security,” the report reads.
The pandemic has intensified challenges that women already faced. Working mothers have had to juggle work, childcare and housework, without the support that made this possible, such as childcare and school. Many are trying to do a full day of work at home, while simultaneously looking after kids.
Researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education interviewed 3,500 families of two opposite-gender parents to find women were looking after children for an average of 10.3 hours a day — 2.3 hours more than fathers. Women were also doing housework for 1.7 more hours than fathers.
One in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely because of the impact of COVID-19. With this in mind, it’s more important than ever for employers to offer adequate support to ensure gender equality in the workplace doesn’t slip further away.
“Organisations must support female employees to ensure the gender balance is not damaged forever,” says Caroline Whaley, the co-founder of Shine for Women, a consulting agency for women and companies to promote gender equality.
WATCH: How to answer difficult interview questions
Creating and embracing a new style of leadership which focuses on inclusion more energetically than before can help buffer the negative impact of COVID-19 on women. “This will involve allowing flexible working to continue to help employees with family commitments to keep participating, sticking to goals and reporting data on diversity and pay,” Whaley explains.
COVID-19 has forced companies all over the world to adapt to and embrace remote work — at least for the short term. Although the transition to working from home was very rapid for many organisations, many firms have said they are planning to allow remote working after the pandemic, including Facebook (FB). Flexible working, whether it is working from home or adjusting hours to fit around childcare, allows women to continue working alongside other family responsibilities.
It’s also important to put support networks in place for employees to utilise, such as coaching sessions or access to online personal development tools.
“These will allow employees to invest time in furthering their skills and building confidence. In recent research, we asked women how they feel right now, what they want more of from their professional and personal lives coming out of lockdown, and their thoughts on careers and personal development,” Whaley says.
“The results revealed that over 64% of full time working women wanted to learn new skills and invest time in personal development in order to future-proof their careers in this uncertain time.”
Investing in young talent is also crucial in the aftermath of COVID-19. In October, a study by the London School of Economics found young people in the UK are more than twice as likely to lose their jobs compared with older workers. More than one in 10 people aged 16 to 25 have lost their jobs, and just under six in 10 have seen their earnings fall since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“Younger people, especially young women, risk losing confidence which will damage the long-term future of a business,” Whaley says. “Working from home means there is a lack of on-site coaching and less chance of learning from, and being inspired by more experienced colleagues. Now is the time for organisations to step in and make provisions for developing their people. Don’t let the talent you have go to waste.”
WATCH: Ara Tucker on creating a sense of belonging in the workplace