Even before the COVID-19 pandemic overtook the globe in early 2020, inequities were holding women back in the workplace.
In 2020, women globally earned 81 cents for every dollar earned by men. The pandemic has widened the gap. In 2020, as 114 million jobs were lost across the globe, employment losses for women were at 5%, compared with 3.9% for men.
And studies have found that during the crisis women assumed additional responsibilities, such as taking on more household, childcare, and other caring duties— while continuing to work.
To understand the impact of the pandemic on gender equality in the workplace, Deloitte Global conducted a survey of 5,000 women across 10 countries between November 2020 and March 2021. The survey probed several areas relating to their work lives, including their experiences during the pandemic and career expectations for the future. Respondents varied across age groups and the data from the survey has also enabled analysis through the intersectional lenses of race and ethnicity and sexual orientation and gender identity.
The survey findings indicate that gender equality in the workplace regressed during the pandemic. But the findings also demonstrate the vital role that employers can play in reversing that trend.
Women’s wellbeing has fallen since the pandemic
Healthy boundaries between work and home have deteriorated. Only 22% of women believe that their employers have enabled them to establish clear boundaries between work and personal hours. As many as 77% of women say their workload has increased and 51% of women feel less optimistic about their career prospects today than they did before the pandemic, and 29% of the women who said their career isn’t progressing as fast as they would like (42% of the total sample) say poor mental health is one of the reasons for this.
Women continue to deal with non-inclusive behaviour at work, even in the virtual workplace
More than half have experienced some form of harassment or microaggression in the past year, ranging from the belief that their judgment is being questioned because they are women to experiencing disparaging and/ or sexual comments. The data also shows that many of these events go unreported to employers, with concerns over career penalty being one of the main reasons cited.
LGBT+ women and women of colour face even more challenges
LGBT+ women and women of colour are more likely to report lower levels of mental wellbeing and work-life balance compared with the overall sample. LGBT+ women are less likely than those who are not LGBT+ to say that their employer’s commitment to supporting women has been sufficient since the COVID-19 crisis began (35% vs. 44%). Women in these groups have also experienced more non-inclusive behaviours. Compared with white women, women of colour in the survey are more likely to say they have heard comments about their communication style (15% vs. 5%) and to have their judgment questioned (14% vs. 8%). LGBT+ women are nearly four times more likely to say they have experienced jokes of a sexual nature than non‑LGBT+ women.
The Majority of women are not satisfied with their jobs and do not see a long-term future in their current job
Less than half of the respondents rate their current job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity at work as “good” or “extremely good,” compared with about three-quarters before the pandemic. Almost half (45%) of the women who had to change their working hours due to care responsibilities say their relationship with their employers was negatively impacted, increasing to 54% for women of colour and 65% for women who are sole parents. Women of colour are also more likely to say that their careers are not progressing fast enough (52% vs. 42%) compared with the overall sample. With regard to satisfaction with their jobs, 57% of women say they plan to leave their current job within two years, and 21% of these women expect to be gone in less than a year. Work-life balance was the top reason why women would consider leaving their current employer.
On the bright side, when women experience a truly respectful and inclusive culture, they are more engaged, productive and loyal.
Some companies have created genuinely inclusive cultures where women believe they are fully supported by management and respected by their peers. Women who work for these organizations report higher levels of mental wellbeing, motivation, productivity, and loyalty to their employers. They are also far more likely to say they are planning to stay with their employers for longer than two years, compared with women who work for businesses that have not demonstrated an inclusive culture.
Six unique insights into actions organizations can take now
- Create and maintain a culture that is truly inclusive – EVERY DAY
- Enable work-life balance
- Visible commitment of leaders is key
- Provide fulfilling development opportunities that work for women
- Success at work is empowered by support for life outside work
- Rebuild better – with gender equality in mind
Visit our searchable Knowledge Bank for a range of reports and studies on gender diversity, leadership and related topics.