In recent blogs, we’ve discussed the racial and financial inequality and inequity that society has seen specifically in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic—for example, healthcare and vaccine distribution inequity. However, there are many other cases of inequality that have been brought to light since the pandemic that we have not yet touched upon, such as gender inequality in the workplace. In this blog, we will take a look at how COVID-19 reversed gender equality progress as well as how data can help improve the issue.
Pandemic job loss
The pandemic has impacted almost every individual in some way or another, but one of the biggest impacts from the virus was on the economy. Many companies were forced to cut budgets and therefore lay off or furlough their workers, which put stress on those who lost their jobs as well as the company. While these individuals include both men and women, women have been particularly impacted in a negative way. McKinsey reports that women, especially women of color, were more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic and while it is becoming more common for fathers to stay at home with their children while women work, the report says, “working mothers have always worked a ‘double shift’—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labor.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, outside support systems such as school, after-school care, and summer camps have been closed indefinitely and many women have taken the extra stress as a weight on their shoulders. Women of color have this same issue but to add on, they also have to face more barriers to advance in the workforce, pandemic or not, in addition to the constant racial discrimination and injustice that they experience or see every day. According to McKinsey, more than one in four women are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable before the pandemic: “downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. This is an emergency for corporate America. Companies risk losing women in leadership—and future women leaders—and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity.”
Women in leadership
In relation to the pandemic, women make up 39% of the global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses as of May 2020, but there was a large gap of inequality before the pandemic as well, specifically in leadership positions among almost every industry. The pandemic has further pushed progression of equality backwards and added on to the already existing issues. For example, in medicine, women represent 40 percent of all physicians and surgeons yet only 16 percent of permanent medical school deans. In academia, women have earned the majority of doctorates for eight consecutive years but make up only 32 percent of full professors and 30 percent of college presidents, and in the financial service industry, women constitute 61 percent of accountants and auditors, 53 percent of financial managers, and 37 percent of financial analytics, but are only 12.5 percent of chief financial officers in Fortune 500 companies. From the healthcare industry to the corporate world to women in politics, statistics have historically shown that leadership roles have been disproportionate to that of male employees.
Gender pay gap
When discussing gender inequity and inequality in the workplace, most of us think of the pay gap which has been around ever since women were given the right to work outside of the home. It’s one of the most common factors of gender inequality and while it has been improving over the years in some industries, it’s still a big issue and the pandemic definitely did not help it improve.
NPR’s Planet Money points out, “Before the pandemic, the average American female worker earned only 81 cents for every dollar the average male worker made… Between February and April 2020, male unemployment increased 9.9%; female unemployment increased 12.8%.” Men are more likely to have jobs that allow remote work, while females tend to have more employment in the service industries which have shut down for an undecided amount of time; this makes it difficult to close the pay gap again. “We project it’s going to take more than 10 years for the gender wage gap to close to what it was before the pandemic,” says Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, an economist at Northwestern University. Based on economist predictions, NPR states that the gender wage gap will widen by five percentage points, so that the average female worker will earn about 76 cents for every dollar the average male worker makes. And again, women of color face an even bigger gap due to racial inequality. One eye-opening statistic found by National Women’s Law Center states, “A woman of color who works full time, year-round, can lose more than $1 million in income over a 40-year career because of the wage gap,” and this finding is in regards to the wage gap without a pandemic.
Use data and take action!
Closing the gender inequality gap is not something that can be accomplished overnight, but the most useful and impactful thing that companies and organizations can do to actively try and help close that gap is to use their already existing data to figure out how they can strive for better equality in their own company and act upon it accordingly—this can also help predict future gaps which is just as important. As more organizations introduce diversity metrics relating to recruitment, training, progression and pay, they will have more data to analyze that will bring valuable insights into patterns, trends and discrepancies between how female staff is treated compared with male counterparts. Today’s analytics programs can also help eliminate bias by enabling HR teams, for example, to identity patterns of bias that existed in the past and devise fair compensation structures. As Harvard Business Review explained, “Business leaders will need transparency on gendered regressive impacts within their company.” For example, “Are job losses or requests for leave higher among women? Have promotion rates of women slowed? With new hiring, is the pre-COVID gender balance level being maintained?” Ultimately, taking the time to go through such data to pinpoint where the inequality exists and then working to change it is the first step to creating a more equal environment in one’s business which will, hopefully, over time, evolve into what the workplace should have been from the start.