The most talked about news these days is, without an iota of doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens all across the globe, in some way or the other, can give their input. And yet, no one knows when we can put a stop to this ensuing uncertainty.
I shared my thoughts about female expertise being silenced during the COVID-19 crisis. And I also mentioned how it is women who are at the receiving end and bearing the brunt of the pandemic more than men. On all fronts, they have been the sufferers. Now, as time is passing, it is indeed very scary to see a dramatic reduction in the female workforce.
Numbers that paint a sad picture
A depressing statistic comes from the International Labour Organization. Two-thirds of the jobs lost permanently to COVID are women’s jobs. In the United States, 1.1 million workers dropped out of the labor force between August and September. Of those, 865,000 were women.
Based on pre-pandemic data, India ranked 112th out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index. This was in terms of offering equal opportunities for men and women.
The progress of women has been pushed back even further now. According to government data, women’s share in new payroll additions fell below 20% in August, a part of a gradual decline in the last few months.
A recently released report by the United Nations states that the pandemic will push 96 million people into poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom will be women and girls.
Mommies are making the sacrifice
It is a global story with working moms trying to juggle their professional and personal duties. Fearing the spread of the virus, many families who earlier relied on services to help them with work around the house have stopped hiring those individuals. In the absence of domestic help to assist them with child care or to look after the sick and elderly, many women have had to leave their jobs.
The back-to-school season is posing even greater problems in families where both parents work. In order to stay safe, students have been doing online classes. For little children who need supervision, in most cases, it is the mother who is having to make the sacrifice. She is choosing family over career as she now needs to play the (unpaid) role of the teacher too.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country has witnessed a scenario of 1 million jobs lost for married women in September, as opposed to 800,000 for married men.
What about women in senior positions?
Generally, we would assume that those women in higher positions would have their jobs firmly in place. This is unfortunately not the truth. Corporate America lays bare a sad reality.
The 2020 Women in the Workplace report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company shows that the pressure is mounting even for women in senior positions. One out of four women are considering downshifting or quitting the workforce. Although women in executive positions have better access to childcare than other workers, their responsibilities at home have exponentially increased.
Research demonstrates that the challenge is always greater for senior-level women whose performance is judged against higher standards than their male counterparts. They are easily blamed for their failures. In the midst of COVID, the problem has exacerbated even more.
We need collective action
“COVID-19 is not gender neutral,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. She points out how women have been hit the hardest. Most women who were laid off had been in insecure jobs without enforceable contracts. She voices her thoughts that while employing stimulus packages to employers to salvage the loss incurred in the crisis, governments should direct attention towards women too. They should not be neglected just because they do not have the right contract or can’t make the right demands.
Everyone has a role to play. Companies need to address the concerns of their female employees through effective communication. They need to figure out what is required and accordingly frame policies to support them at the hour of need.
Some flexibility definitely needs to be allowed by giving women a reasonable workload so that they can handle the multiple roles they are currently playing. Companies can also offer mental health counseling sessions to help employees to cope with stress and prevent them from leaving the workforce.
“Charity begins at home”, as the saying goes. We need to facilitate an atmosphere of gender equality at the grassroot level for it to prevail across the wider spectrum. Men and women need to share the “extra” work that has surfaced in households.
We can no longer delay in taking the steps to fight the threats that are hindering women’s progress. The bumps and roadblocks need to be cleared. Whatever advancement has been made by women in the workplace cannot be reduced to shambles by a pandemic!
( This article was featured in Women’s Web )