COVID-19 Has Totally Undone Decades of Progress for Women Workers

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The pandemic is reversing the progress made on advancing female participation in the workforce — and the pace of progress toward gender equality will need to accelerate to recover from this setback, according to a new report.

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PwC’s Women in Work Index report, released this week, shows that while gradual progress was being made pre-pandemic across countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), more women than men are employed in sectors hardest hit by COVID-19.

In addition, the pandemic has amplified the unequal burden of unpaid care and domestic work carried by women, causing more women than men to exit the workforce.

“If nothing is done to directly address the impact of the pandemic on women or to tackle pre-existing gender inequalities in care, more women will leave the workforce permanently. The damage could take years to repair. Our analysis finds that even at double the rate of historical progress, the OECD will not catch up to its pre-pandemic equality growth path until 2030,” the report notes.

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Governments are not taking account of the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on women in responding to the pandemic, the report says, adding that the UN’s Gender Response Tracker found that only 10% of all measures in place globally are policies specifically designed to provide economic support to women.

“Immediate action is needed to undo the damage from COVID-19 to women’s economic empowerment. Governments and businesses must work together to address the underlying gender inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, close existing gender pay gaps, support female progression and leadership in the workplace and fund employment and business opportunities for women in future growth sectors of the economy.”

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According to the report, increasing female employment could boost GDP across the OECD by more than $6 trillion per year. The US is expected to gain the most, with a potential gain of $1.7 trillion, per PwC data.

Closing the gender pay gap could also boost female earnings across the OECD by more than $2 trillion per year, a 22% increase. “Of the OECD countries, the United States is anticipated to achieve the largest gains in absolute terms from closing the pay gap, with total female earnings increasing by $925 billion per annum, more than three times as much as the next big winner, Japan,” the report states.

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