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ILO: COVID-19 has worsened gender equality in the workplace globally

Women are leaving the workforce in droves.

Allie Nawrat

Credit: KATARÍNA MITTÁKOVÁ via Twenty20.

What should employers and governments do to correct this? Unleash Your Potential

COVID-19 has changed the world of work forever.

It has proven that remote, flexible working can be good for employees and employers alike. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

The inequalities between men and women in the workplace have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and this situation looks set to persist into the near future, according to research by UN agency the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The ILO found that there between 2019 and 2020 the number of women in the global workforce declined by 4.2% – a drop of 54 million jobs – while men’s employment declined by 3% or 60 million jobs.

Also, the research noted that only 43.2% of working age women would be employed in 2021, compared to 68.6% of women. There were 13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019.

The reason why women have suffered disproportionate job and income losses is because they are over-represented in the hardest hit sectors, accommodation and tourism, food services and manufacturing.

In addition, women were forced by the COVID-`19 restrictions to bear of unpaid caring work.

ILO’s report found that “women’s working conditions have worsened, as the combination of COVID-19-related anxiety, unchanged expectations from employers and an increase in care responsibilities can have severe repercussions on women’s physical and mental health.”

Workplace gender inequality is particularly pronounced in the Americas and Europe.

In the Americas, the number of women in the workforce fell by 9.4%, compared to 7% for men, whereas it was 2.5% for women vs 1.9% for men in Europe and Central Asia.

What should be done to correct workplace gender inequality?

The ILO’s research did find, however, that women faired better in countries that “took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to re-enter employment as early as possible”. Examples include job retention scheme like the UK’s furlough scheme.

Therefore, the UN agency calls on governments to “build forward fairer” and focus on placing gender equality at the core of the recovery effort.

It calls on governments to invest in the care economy – including health, social work and education – as these are “important generators of jobs, especially for women, and because care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men.”

The ILO also wants to see the gender pay gap closed, as well as the ending of “violence and harassment in the world of work”.

“Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment worsened during the pandemic, further undermining women’s ability to engage in paid employment,” concluded the ILO.

While governments must play their part, employers also need to ensure that they are ensuring their workplace is welcoming to women looking for jobs.

Some companies, including McDonald’s, are implementing incentives around childcare to encourage people to apply for open roles, while Amazon has revamped its ‘returnship’ programme that helps candidates who have left the workforce for a year or more. It aims to hire 1,000 people, and mainly women, through this initiative in the next few years.

Taling about the initiative to Fortune, Alex Mooney, senior diversity talent acquisition program manager at Amazon, said: “It should become more standard for employers that are in a position like Amazon’s to offer returnships.

“Women are the primary caretakers in our society, and this program will be predominantly for them.”

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