This article is based on the author’s comments and panelists’ views at a Finimize event, “The Possibilities of a She-covery,” on 23 March 2021.
Women around the world are bearing much of the economic brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic – from job or income losses to increased childcare and other domestic responsibilities that make working more difficult. In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, women were more likely than men to lose their jobs last year than in 2019.1 In Latin America, women have lost a decade of job gains.2 In Asia, data show that most countries saw a larger decline in working hours and employment for women than men.3 And the longer working women bear the burden of childcare, the more likely they are to exit the workforce or slow their career progression. This “she-cession” threatens not only progress toward gender parity but also the pace of long-term economic growth.
As some economists note, there can’t be an economic recovery without a “she-covery.” So what are some of the building blocks to help women both regain what was lost and make further strides?
Today, women account for 70% of professionals, doctors, and nurses in the health sector globally, and on average around the world provide three times more unpaid care and domestic work than men.4”
As much as the pandemic has impacted women disproportionately, it has also highlighted the variety of ways companies and governments can create policies and structures to support them. For one, companies have realized that employees can be as productive working from home as they were in the office, and that much of work travel can be minimized or eliminated. This newfound awareness offers possibilities for women who have long struggled to balance work and family responsibilities. When a company rejects a parent’s request to work from home to care for a sick child, for instance, the experience can make reconciling work and family life seem difficult or even impossible. This pandemic has shown that parents shouldn’t have to make a choice between family and work anymore.
32% of working women ages 25-44 say they're not working because of childcare demands.5”
Indeed, during one of the most challenging times in modern history, employees have demonstrated that working remotely can have little to no impact on the quantity and quality of work. Flexibility may, in turn, make for happier, more motivated employees. S&P Global’s Corporate Sustainability Assessment and Equileap found that turnover is lower when companies provide flexible working options.6 A supportive working environment may also encourage more women to remain in the workforce when they start families or restart their careers after having children. Polling at the March Finimize event showed that 90% of women attendees said they are taking on more “homemaking” roles during the pandemic and more than 70% said they would welcome more flexible work options.
The pandemic also underscored the importance of investing for the future. Women tend to earn less and invest less than men, but live longer. Taking control of financial planning can help relieve women of financial stress. A financial advisor can help women design a diversified investment portfolio that aims to both grow their capital in rising markets and help protect their capital in falling markets. Multi-asset portfolios, for example, seek stable returns and help smooth out periods of market volatility.
It is also important to find a regular passive income stream that can supplement finances in the event that one’s main income source is lost or diminished. These may include dividend-paying securities or rental income. In an encouraging sign, a recent report showed that in India, the number of women investing in the equity markets rose during the pandemic – and many were first-time investors.7
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors have also become a key focus during the pandemic, and gender diversity has been a defining social issue. In Asia, women occupy highly valued roles in the corporate world, and in some pockets of the investment industry, women may even outnumber men. But more important is having a say in decision-making. As organizations and governments design their recovery strategies, an inclusive decision-making process would likely generate a greater diversity of ideas and solutions that promote more equitable benefits and could have a lasting impact.
The long-term effects of Covid-19 on women in the workforce are not yet fully known. The crisis, however, has created both an opportunity and added urgency for industry, governments, and society to address the factors that have held women back from fully participating in and benefiting from the economy. For a “she-covery” to be successful, going back to “normal” is no longer an option – it’s time to take active steps toward building an economy that works for women.
1 Women in Work Index 2021 PwC. Please see: https://www.pwc.co.uk/services/economics/insights/women-in-work-index.html
2 UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), February 2021. Please see: https://www.cepal.org/en/pressreleases/covid-19-pandemic-has-caused-setback-over-decade-labor-market-participation-women
3 Please see “Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2020,” International Labor Organization, December 2020. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/---sro-bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_764084.pdf
4 OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), 22 September 2020.
5 New York Times, “The Primal Scream: America's Mothers Are In Crisis”, 21 February 2021.
6 Please see “Lack of Gender Equality Laws Bring Economic Cost, Heightened by Pandemic,” S&P Global, 2 March 2021. https://www.spglobal.com/marketintelligence/en/news-insights/latest-news-headlines/lack-of-gender-equality-laws-bring-economic-cost-heightened-by-pandemic-62803521
7 Please see “Women participation in equity markets grows during Covid-19 pandemic,” Business Standard, 6 September 2020. https://www.business-standard.com/article/markets/women-participation-in-equity-markets-grows-during-covid-19-pandemic-120090600191_1.html
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