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Women in work

Progress for women in work back to 2017 levels

March 8 is the International Women’s Day. It is the moment to celebrate the social, economic, political and cultural accomplishments of women around the world.

It could be also an opportunity to celebrate the successes that women have achieved in the workplace. However, COVID-19 is reversing the OECD countries’ progress towards female economic empowerment and the important gains that have been made over the last decade, according to a report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Before the pandemic, gradual progress was being made in the OECD to advance gender equality in the workplace. PwC said in its annual report that the COVID-19 crisis reversed these gains in many of the world’s wealthiest countries, as the burden of childcare rose and female-dominated sectors shed jobs.

Women’s jobs are being disproportionately hit by COVID-19 because of existing gender inequalities in society, and the disruptive impact of the pandemic on service sectors with high levels of female employment. 

The effects of COVID-19 are a “shecession”

The annual PwC Women in Work Index showed that women were more likely than men to lose their jobs in 17 of the 24 rich countries where unemployment rose in 2020. 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, PwC’s research found.

Regarding the top OECD countries for women’s economic empowerment, this year, Iceland and Sweden once again take the top two places on the Women in Work Index, with New Zealand coming in third. The U.K. ranks 16th.

PwC calls for immediate action

The report, which looked at 33 countries in the OECD, said progress towards gender equality at work would not begin to recover until 2022. Even then, the pace of progress would need to double, if rich countries were to make up the losses by 2030.

And the full impact of COVID-19 on women in work has not yet been realised, according to PwC, which warns that if nothing is done to directly address the impact of the pandemic on women or to tackle pre-existing gender inequalities in care, more women will leave the workforce permanently. 

PwC calls for immediate action to undo the damage from COVID-19 to women’s economic empowerment.

“Policy responses to support the economic recovery need to specifically address the impacts of the pandemic on women. Governments and businesses must work together to address the underlying gender inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, close existing gender pay gaps, support female progression and leadership in the workplace, and fund employment and business opportunities for women in future growth sectors of the economy.”

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