Women are essential to the economy – let’s treat them this way

  • COVID-19 has exacerbated existing gender gaps.
  • One in three jobs held by women were rated as ‘essential’ – but women faced disproportionately high unemployment and additional childcare responsibilities.
  • As economies reopen, policymakers must address structural inequalities in critical industries that rely on female labor.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a lot about the nature of work in the world – and the important but undervalued role of women in it.

Before the pandemic, essential workers – many of whom were women – provided essential services that often went unnoticed. According to a New York Times analysis, in the United States, 1 in 3 jobs held by women were identified as essential. Additionally, non-white women are more likely than anyone to perform essential tasks. The work they do has often been underpaid and undervalued, making them an invisible workforce that keeps the global economy running.

1 in 3 jobs held by women was judged

Image: The New York Times

The recession caused by the pandemic has hit women particularly hard. “In the months following the spring 2020 closures, 11.3 million jobs held by women disappeared almost immediately, with women overrepresented in the retail, restaurant, travel and food industries. the hotel industry “, says Washington Post report.

“In addition, the lack of child care and the closure of schools meant that many women, including those who had not lost their jobs, had to assume the bulk of child care,” the Washington Post continues. Personally, like many women, I became a teacher overnight, a responsibility in addition to my full-time job and caring for my family.

In South Africa, estimates suggest COVID-19 destroyed a decade of job growth in just four months. And on the 3 million jobs lost in Q1 and Q2 2020, according to NIDS-CRAM data, 2 million were held by women.

The economic impacts of the pandemic have exacerbated pre-existing gender inequalities. The fact that women have been hit hardest by the economic downturn is perhaps not surprising, given the larger historical context. Gender differences in employment and income were already large before the pandemic, with a gender pay gap across all sectors. Search by Stanford University found that the gender gap in STEM is not just a pipeline issue; Tech companies alienate women when recruiting in the language and behavior of recruiters, which in fact results in female graduates not even applying for STEM jobs after graduation.

In South Africa, the Department of Trade and Industry reported that women face particular challenges in setting up small businesses, including low financial literacy, negative attitudes towards female borrowers within banks and a lack of appropriate financial products. And women who were able to start their own businesses generally saw their incomes lower than those of male-owned businesses.

As vaccines roll out and many economies begin to open up, it is important that policymakers take a serious look at the structure of the economy and, in particular, the critical industries that keep economies running and are anchored by female labor.

As the burden of childcare is unlikely to shift to women anytime soon, more needs to be done to subsidize childcare costs, especially for women working in essential services, in recognition of the value and the role they play in sustaining the economic engine. operation.

As work is realigned in the post-pandemic world, policymakers, CEOs and policymakers shouldn’t want to go back to “normal” – because normal was not working for all workers, especially women and men. people of color. We know it will now take 135.6 years to achieve gender parity, up from around 100 years before the pandemic strikes. However, this should not be the case if policy makers and decision makers become intentional to close the gender gap and use the crisis to correct what was wrong with the system.

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress in reducing the gender gap at the national level. To turn these ideas into concrete actions and national progress, we developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public-private collaboration.

These accelerators were organized in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank.

In 2019, Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Gender Gap Reduction Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent just over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women in the labor force are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to move into managerial positions.

In these countries, CEOs and ministers work together over a three-year period on policies that help to further narrow economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized child care, and the removal of unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap accelerator countries, you can join the local member base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Gender Gap Reduction Accelerator, you can contact us to explore options for setting one up.


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About Matthew Berkey

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