COVID-19 is raising new barriers to women’s equality at work

Global concern over pandemic effect on women's prospects in the workplace

1st April 2021 about a 3 minute read
“We hope this report will serve as a call to action to leaders to embed gender parity as a central goal of our policies and practices to manage the post-pandemic recovery, to the benefit of our economies and our societies”.  Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society

A new report from the World Economic Forum raises concerns over the way the COVID-19 pandemic has set back the cause of women in the workplace.

It notes how new barriers to equality have been raised while pre-existing gender gaps have been amplified.

The Global Gender Gap Report reinforces the findings of Future Care Capital research, published last month in the report Enterprise in Health, which highlighted concern over the lack of female entrepreneurs in health and social care start ups.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) notes that emerging industries are not recruiting as many women as they should be.

Meanwhile the sectors hardest hit by lockdowns and rapid digitalisation are those where women are more frequently employed. This, combined with the additional pressures of providing care in the home, has meant the pandemic has halted progress toward gender parity in several economies and industries. 

The data available for the report does not yet fully reflect the impact of the pandemic. Projections for some countries show that gender gaps in labour force participation are wider since the outbreak of the pandemic. Globally, the economic gender gap could be between 1% and 4% wider than reported.

The report says lowest female representation (under 25%) was seen in growing occupations, for example Artificial Intelligence specialist, cloud engineer and enterprise account executive.

Highest representation (more than 55% female) was seen in roles such as content specialist, content writer, human resources partner and social media assistant.

In the Global Gender Gap Index, Iceland is ranked first (for the 12th time). The top 10 includes: 

  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • New Zealand
  • Sweden
  • Namibia
  • Rwanda
  • Lithuania
  • Ireland
  • Switzerland.

The United Kingdom is ranked 23rd. The five overall most-improved countries are Lithuania, Serbia, Timor-Leste, Togo and United Arab Emirates.

The report notes that in addition to closing political gender gaps, top-ranking Iceland has nearly closed its gender gap on the Health and Survival (96.4%) and Educational Attainment (99.9%) subindexes. 

However, despite boys and girls having similar access to all levels of education, the next challenge is to improve women’s participation and enrolment in fields of education most relevant for the job market, currently, and in the future. 

Only 10.25% of Icelandic female graduates choose to pursue a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) track. 

By contrast, one-third (26.6%) of the total male graduates attain a degree in these fields. The report says this may slow down future progress in closing the gender gaps in the workplace, even though Iceland has already closed 84.6% of its Economic Participation and Opportunity gender gap, ranking 4th globally.

Overall the report says future gender gaps are likely to be driven by ‘occupation segregation’ in emerging roles. Occupational differences are a key factor in wage inequality as the emerging roles with lower female representation see higher than average wage levels.

And it notes that roles common among low- to middle-income women are more likely to be among jobs lost to automation.

The authors warn that without opportunities for re-employment and re-deployment into emerging roles, the share of women in the labour market could shrink further. 

For a copy of the full report click here


For all the latest news, research and events on data, technology and innovation, sign up to the Future Care Capital free weekly newsletter here