Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

'Shecession': What COVID-19 has meant for women and work

a woman sits at her desk doing work with a child on her lap and a pet cat on the desk

Last year, women spent 7.7 more hours a week on unpaid childcare than men. Image: REUTERS/Eva Plevier

Anuradha Nagaraj
Correspondent, Reuters
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Education, Gender and Work

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed many of women's workplace gains, causing a 'shecession', according to a new report.
  • In 17 of the 24 rich countries where unemployment rose last year, women were more likely than men to lose their jobs.
  • On average, women spent 7.7 more hours a week than men on unpaid childcare last year, forcing some women to quit their jobs altogether.
  • The report concluded that progress towards gender equality at work would not begin to recover until 2022.

The coronavirus pandemic reversed women's workplace gains in many of the world's wealthiest countries as the burden of childcare rose and female-dominated sectors shed jobs, according to research released on March 2nd.

Women were more likely than men to lose their jobs in 17 of the 24 rich countries where unemployment rose last year, according to the latest annual PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Women in Work Index.

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Jobs in female-dominated sectors like marketing and communications were more likely to be lost than roles in finance, which are more likely to be held by men, said the report, calling the slowdown a "shecession".

Meanwhile, women were spending on average 7.7 more hours a week than men on unpaid childcare, a "second shift" that is nearly the equivalent of a full-time job and risks forcing some out of paid work altogether, it found.

"Although jobs will return when economies bounce back, they will not necessarily be the same jobs," said Larice Stielow, senior economist at PwC.

"If we don't have policies in place to directly address the unequal burden of care, and to enable more women to enter jobs in growing sectors of the economy, women will return to fewer hours, lower-skilled, and lower paid jobs."

The report, which looked at 33 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) club of rich nations, said progress towards gender equality at work would not begin to recover until 2022.

Gender Parity Education, Gender and Work COVID-19 Future of Work
Jobs in female-dominated sectors were more likely to be lost during the pandemic. Image: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Women in Work Index.

Even then, the pace of progress would need to double if rich countries were to make up the losses by 2030, it said, calling on governments and businesses to improve access to growth sectors such as artificial intelligence and renewable energy.

Laura Hinton, chief people officer at PwC, said it was "paramount that gender pay gap reporting is prioritised, with targeted action plans put in place as businesses focus on building back better and fairer".

Britain has required employers with more than 250 staff to submit gender pay gap figures every year since 2017 in a bid to reduce pay disparities, but last year it suspended the requirement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionHealth and Healthcare SystemsJobs and the Future of Work
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