Gender inequality in the workplace is nothing new, but the coronavirus pandemic is shedding light on just how much work we still have left to do regarding how men and women are viewed in the context of our workplaces.
Before Covid-19, women already had significant ground to cover to reach equality with their male co-workers. The World Economic Forum, in its Global Gender Gap Report 2020, estimated that we would not achieve gender parity for another 257 years, and that was before economies were devastated by the pandemic.
From my perspective as the founder of a company that provides a flexible work structure to women and caregivers, the coronavirus could negatively impact much of the progress that has been made with regard to gender equality. As the World Economic Forum pointed out, this is due in large part to the fact that women are more likely than men to work in “social sectors” (or industries that require face-to-face interactions such as hospitality, retail and tourism), which have been the hardest hit by social distancing requirements. In the U.S., almost 74% of women work in these social sectors, compared to only 48% of men, and unemployment in these industries was nearly double that of other industries.
Furthermore, women already bore much of the responsibility for most unpaid household labor and caregiving before the pandemic. With school closures and many companies transitioning to remote work, the burden on parents has increased, particularly for women.
According to research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, though child care has been more equally divided between men and women during the pandemic, the additional workload brought by Covid-19 is still mostly falling on women’s shoulders. A separate survey estimated that working moms are now spending 15 more hours than working dads on child care and household chores per week.
In her interview with CBS News, Jessica Mason, a senior policy analyst at the National Partnership for Women and Families, said, “When illness strikes, when medical needs arise, women tend to be the primary caregivers in families, particularly for children. So the need to care for children when a school is closed, it is most likely to pose a disproportionate burden on women.”
With an uncertain future for many still looming and schools still evaluating the safety and logistics of in-person classes resuming in the fall, we must actively work to protect the progress we have made toward gender equality. To lose ground now would certainly have a detrimental effect on women, families and our global economy for generations to come. Employers should consider these four things in order to protect and promote equality:
1. Provide flexibility. If the past four months have taught us anything, it’s that our businesses can continue to function without our employees logging eight hours per day in an office building. Work is something we do, not somewhere we go, and employees have proven over and over again that they are capable of being just as efficient (and, sometimes, more so) while working from home.
2. Offer paid sick leave. With many workers depending on a steady income, the threat of contracting Covid-19 is likely very scary to your team. Offering your employees paid time off when they’re sick can help provide them with peace of mind.
3. Promote women employees. We must actively reject the stigma that because women perform more unpaid labor and have more caregiving responsibilities, they are less focused or have less time to devote to work. Don’t hesitate to promote your female employees who have proven they are capable of managing their career and their family during this crisis. In my experience, they will use their dedication and work ethic to better your business.
4. Understand the importance of balance. Work-life balance is tricky without a pandemic; during these uncertain times, leaders must put policies in place to ensure that our employees are taking care of themselves and their families.
As we move through this crisis, we have the unique opportunity to show business leaders that men and women are equally equipped to care for their families and still succeed in their work. Our children are watching us; wouldn’t it be incredible if we could show them what greater gender equality looks like?