Covid-19 and workplace gender equality

Covid Workplace Gender Equality

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Research by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) indicates that the long- and short-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic pose a threat to the progress of gender equality in the EU.

During the first lockdown in 2020, EIGE drew attention to the risk of severe consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on women-dominated professions. It was noted that 25 percent of women in the EU worked in “precarious jobs”, which describe jobs with a low probability of paid sick leave or compensation in case of being laid off work, resulting in difficulties to pay for necessities. The number of non-EU-born women working in these jobs is especially high (35%). In line with the predictions, EIGE found that the number of women employed across the EU fell by 3.8 million. 40 percent (which is 1.5 million in absolute numbers) of these jobs lost by women were in highly women-dominated professions such as domestic work, accommodation, work in retail, residential care, and apparel manufacturing.

Another area where women make up the larger proportion of employees is the healthcare sector. The pandemic poses a high risk to the physical and mental health of healthcare workers. Due to the close contact with patients, healthcare workers are more exposed to the virus than people working in other professions. Furthermore, the long periods of being overworked and the exposure to dying and suffering patients risk affecting workers’ mental health. The numbers on the economic recovery in the summer of 2020 indicated longer-lasting effects of the pandemics’ economic impact on women than men. Thus, there were gender differences in the rates of return to the labor market. While employment increased by 1.4 percent for men in the third quarter of 2020, the increase for women was 0.8 percent. The difference was especially high for employees in the age group 25-49, here women’s growth was 0.3 percent compared to 0.7 percent for men.

EIGE also mentioned gender differences in the share of unpaid work as a major determinant of the differences in outcomes of the pandemic. Despite men taking on more care and domestic chores than before the pandemic, women still take on the larger proportion of unpaid work. While the weekly hours European men spend on domestic chores such as housework and cooking drastically increased from 6.8 hours before the pandemic to 12.1 during the pandemic, European women still dedicated a weekly 18.4 hours to these chores. In a study on the chores of mothers during the pandemic in Iceland, Hjálmsdóttir and Bjarnadóttir concluded that Covid-19 revealed and exaggerated traditional gender norms even in a country considered to be a global leader in gender equality. In addition to the missing support from care workers and family members such as grandparents due to social distancing measures, parents of school-aged children had to adjust to online schooling as a new form of unpaid care work. EIGE found that mothers working from home were interrupted more by children and were more involved in their children’s virtual classrooms than fathers. These ongoing distractions and added care responsibilities affect women’s productivity at work and may affect their salary and career progression.

To address these problems in the future, the authors of EIGE’s reports strongly recommend increasing gender diversity in sectors, unpaid work, and work-life balance when drafting and implementing response and recovery policies and measures. Furthermore, they noted that 82.2 percent of the 115 Covid-19 decision-making and expert task forces had a male majority. The authors thus emphasize the importance of gender balance in the decision-making processes related to the Covid-19 response at the governmental level.

Recommended Reading:

Eurofound (2020), Living, working and COVID-19, COVID-19 series.

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2020). Coronavirus puts women in the frontline.

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2021). Covid-19 Derails Gender Equality Gains.  

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2021). Gender equality and the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2021). Gender Equality Index 2021: Fragile gains, big losses.  

Hjálmsdóttir, A., & Bjarnadóttir, V. S. (2021). “I have turned into a foreman here at home”: Families and work–life balance in times of COVID‐19 in a gender equality paradise.

The World Economic Forum. (2020). The global gender gap report: gender-gap-2020-report-100-years-pay-equality

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