As a raging pandemic continues only mildly abated by collective efforts, the economy stands on shaky ground impacting gender equality rather seriously. According to studies and surveys conducted by economists, women's jobs are at least 1.7 times more vulnerable to losses when compared to those of men. Globally, women make up for at least 39% of employment but account for 58% of job losses.
Working women earn about one-fifths less income than men. This can be attributed to a plethora of reasons ranging from motherhood and postings in lower-waged jobs to pre-existing stereotypes in promotion decisions. Although some pose the argument that it's shallow to think of fighting against problems stemming from gender inequality when the world is battling a once-in-a-century catastrophe, this crisis is likely only to exacerbate inequalities.
Although this pandemic has given us a clearer picture of gender disparity in the workplace, it has also virtually halted the C-suite hiring for women in workplaces. The profile for CEOs has changed, with corporations placing a more considerable emphasis on experienced leaders who are more well-equipped to handle the uncertainties brought about by such a phenomenon, following the economic recession.
Several reports compare CEO appointments from January 2019 to March 11, 2020- the day COVID was declared a global pandemic, with the ones that were made after this date. 63% of CEOs appointed after the pandemic had prior experience in leadership roles compared to 44% before. The subsequent consequence of this trend is that the hiring of female leaders has decreased from 12% before the pandemic to a meagre 5% after. Before we delve into the reasoning behind this, let's dig into the gender biases that have adversely impacted careers of women.
One of the most common biases is that women will eventually step away from the workforce and will not be as driven as men to excel. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy in an ecosystem that does not give women the tools they need to succeed. These biases can and do re-emerge in the face of a severe economic crisis.
A study conducted by academics at different universities in the United States found that women attempting to join top positions had a more challenging time when the companies were struggling already. It also suggested that companies were more than willing to hire female leaders between 2003 and 2015 when the economy was supporting business owners. But the support for women was immediately withdrawn when the crisis hit.
After questioning a woman’s commitment to her career, her personal life is also scrutinized continuously. It is assumed that she has 'other stuff’ to take care of once home, and that she will not work hard enough to achieve the calibre of work required from workers at top positions, there is no other explanation for the drastic decrease in women's appointment at board positions.
Since companies are hunting for people who have prior experience in CEO positions during a crisis, it is even more unlikely that a woman is considered owing to the hiring decisions in the previous decade - it is usually the men who can boast proven track records in leadership positions and women are not found in flocks in such positions anyway.
Why does COVID hit working women the hardest?
Working women today are found compromising on working hours because of increased domestic responsibilities. This has resulted in one in every four women is considering downsizing her career or quitting her job altogether.
The longer the pandemic continues, the more it will dampen an average woman's ability to climb up the workplace ladder and earn sufficient income to support herself easily. This might even widen the pay gap between the two genders, further strengthening the glass ceiling, and cancelling out years of path-breaking success that helped erase, albeit gradually, this deeply rooted and gendered vice.
What is the situation in India?
India already has one of the lowest female participation in the workforce, globally. The corporate situation is likely to get worse, with around 53% of top companies having a male to female employment ratio of 10:1 or worse. Household burdens on the primary caregiver of the family are only going to worsen the situation.
Is there light at the end of the pandemic tunnel?
A woman's place is everywhere, with decisions and preferences solely relying on her judgement. Workplace enforcers need to bounce back from this unforeseen circumstance with effective interventions and strategies that help women perform in both roles.
It is worth noting that even before the pandemic hit, the lack of support for women in the workplace was a pre-existing issue. Even with progress being made in terms of corporate treatment of working women, several women did find themselves stuck in low-paying jobs for this very reason.
Thus, balancing the status quo shouldn't be the plan. The aim is to build a working environment that isn't aversive to women confidently leading packs of employees to get the deed done, an economy that compensates women fairly for all the hard work they put in, and a cultural shift that enables women to see themselves at the workplace as a natural extension of all that they can be.
(Edited by Neha Baid)