Early trends from the pandemic-scarred labour market signal a variety of emerging and pre-existing challenges for advancing gender parity. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the lives of men and women, introducing new challenges for progress towards gender parity in employment and a longer double-shift of paid and unpaid work. While in some economies women have experienced deeper hardship than men, in others, governments put in place gender-sensitive policies to tackle the issue.
Among the most promising approaches applied by economies that integrated gender-sensitive COVID-19 contingencies were measures that prioritized women’s labour market participation by focusing on unpaid care work, on supporting sectors with larger female representation, and on addressing violence against women in the context of broader social protection and labour market measures through a wide array of policy mechanisms.33
Looking ahead towards a gender-positive recovery, it is possible to design systems and policies which boost gender parity in economic participation in the recovery phase, avoid scarring of the pandemic becoming permanent, and create more resilient socio-economic systems.
First, further investments are needed in the care sector and for equitable access to care leave for men and women. Second, policies and practices need to proactively focus on overcoming occupational segregation by gender. Third, effective mid-career reskilling policies, combined with managerial practices which embed sound, unbiased hiring and promotion practices, will pave the way for a more gender-equal future of work. With respect to the first strategy, data from the World Bank updated in 2021 shows that, globally, women can take on average just over 3 months of leave (paid or unpaid) while fathers can take on average 3 days. Among the top 20% of economies by gender parity in care leave34 women can take more than 8 months and men more than 3 months of care leave.
The care sector in many economies remains poorly funded, partially informal in nature and providing low wages. This underinvestment reflects the common misconception that care work is “low productivity” or “free” work – ignoring the substantial impact of this sector on human capital development across age ranges and its potential to create jobs.35 Investment in the care sector should be a priority not only for governments looking for a strong return on investment in their fiscal recovery package, but also for innovators looking to apply themselves to impactful socioeconomic challenges.
Second, the recovery should usher the way for re-deploying and re-employing women in emerging jobs – a target that will require focused efforts to overcome the trend towards occupational segregation by gender and proactively strengthen the pipeline of women prepared for the emerging jobs of tomorrow. Gender parity should thus be a key principle for organizations setting in place an effective future of work strategy. Effective mid-career reskilling policies will also be an important mechanism for developing and deploying female workers into previously male-dominated growing professions. Such policies will not prove sufficient on their own accord. They must be matched to business cultures and structures which embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.
A number of new approaches to ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion in the future of work were outlined in the paper Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 published in collaboration between the World Economic Forum and leading experts.36
Among the proposed approaches are embedding equity in talent sourcing and selection and in organizational analysis and management, as well as a more equitable approach to employee experience, reward and development.
The analysis in this report suggests that a new avenue for gender parity in the future of work will be potential-based hiring systems which can power new leaps in gender parity across emerging professions. The Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators of the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society aim to enable economies to advance gender parity during and after the COVID-19 crisis, applying a combination of holistic strategies. Each Accelerator is a national public private collaboration platform to help governments and businesses identify, scale and accelerate initiatives to close gender gaps. In addition to in-economy work, economies are invited to join the Global Accelerators Learning Network, which helps create informal exchange on successful local initiatives between economies.
The Accelerator model focuses on a series of ‘big bets’, developed in collaboration with Mercer. These are aligned to the following four objectives:
1. Hardwire gender parity into the post-COVID-19 world of work
- Reskilling women to be ready for re-employment in high-growth sector
- Gender-sensitive workforce planning and redeployment policies and strategies
2. Close gender gaps in remuneration between and within sectors
- Pay reviews and appropriate remediation policies
- Improving work quality and pay standards across currently low-paid essential work
3. Enable women’s participation in the labour force
- Flexible / alternative work arrangements that support diverse workforce
- Enhancing social safety nets, specifically on provision of childcare support
4. Advance more women into management and leadership
- Setting targets for women in leadership on a government and business level