Photo by GaudiLab/shutterstock.com
COVID-19 derailed a lot of things, but one of its largest impacts came at the expense of women’s equality. Comparing the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Reports from 2020 and 2021 reveals just how much the pandemic set women back: In 2020, it was reported that it would take another 99.5 years for men and women to reach parity; but add COVID-19 into the mix, and their 2021 findings estimated that the gender gap will now take 135.6 years to close—36 years of progress lost in the span of 12 months.
The pandemic has only further aggravated the economic inequalities already being experienced by women. Since March 2020, over 2.4 million American women have left the workforce, leaving the lowest percentage of American women working since 1988. The regression caused by the coronavirus (and underlying systemic issues) could take women decades to recover.
The outdated breadwinner-homemaker family dynamic no longer represents how most households function in 2021, yet policies have not been adjusted to reflect this change. With many companies still stereotyping women as “lesser workers” because of home responsibilities, possible maternity leaves, and childcare, workplace equality continues its vicious circle.
And as childcare options disappeared, homeschooling became more popular than not, and workers were asked to set up home offices indefinitely, many families needed to make the difficult decision of who was going to take on the added homelife responsibilities—but was it really a difficult decision?American women get paid an average 82 cents on the dollar for the exact same work as their male counterparts; Canadian women get paid an average of 75 cents on the dollar; and Black women get paid 38 percent less than white men. If one member of the household needs to leave work in order to take on the responsibility of child or elderly care, the obvious, economical response would be the partner with the lower salary give up their working role.
Household chores, childcare, eldercare, and even society’s pressure on appearance combine to work against women in their efforts to progress in their careers. On average, women spend 37 percent more time on household chores than men. Factor in the extra time spent doing “invisible work” such as maintaining the household schedule and social ties, and women are left with significantly less time to spend on career advancement.
The pandemic has been a clear reminder of how much work is still left to be done in the fight for gender equality. The progress made has not been by accident, but because strong women before us have taken action.
“We can’t take for granted where we are now, but we have to look back and know all of these women laid the foundation for us and essentially passed the baton to us,” says Molly Galbraith, co-founder of Girls Gone Strong and author of Strong Women Lift Each Other Up. “Now it’s our job to grab that baton and run forward, lifting each other up until we get to a place of gender equality and equitable representation.”
LinkedIn is taking action in normalizing resume gaps due to home responsibilities and childcare by adding several caretaking job title options (including “stay-at-home mom”) which aim to help their users provide an accurate description of time away from the paid workforce. However, with bias around career breaks, some may question if this update is truly beneficial.
“I think the intentions to normalize parenting or caretaking are laudable, but I worry there will be discrimination as a result,” says Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder, Fairygodboss. “I know many stay-at-home parents who have taken career breaks and tried to get back into the workforce. They told me they feel it would be better to say that they do volunteer work, listing volunteer or non-profit positions instead of labeling themselves as a 'stay-at-home' parent. I'm sympathetic to that, not because I don't respect at-home parenting or caretaking—I have three kids of my own—but because I think there is still bias in the world.”
One woman who is first-handedly working to change that bias and the overall repression of women across the globe is Melinda Gates.
“COVID-19 is gender-blind, but not gender-neutral,” states the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With Melinda Gates at the helm, the foundation has three main areas of gender equality focus: working to break down the structural barriers (lack of affordable childcare, educational opportunities, etc.); empowering individual women (domestic work and overall home life); and embedding a gender focus across all areas of foundation work (how gender equality plays into all world issues).
Helping women reach equality would be helping the economy. According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report, advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025. And if women play an identical role as their male counterparts in labor markets, as much as $28 trillion (26 percent) could be added to global annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.
Close the Gap
Here are some real ways you can help contribute to wage and workplace equality.
1. Start at home. Speaking to your partner and those you live with about sharing the household responsibilities is essential in establishing gender equality outside of the home. Speak to each of your strengths and create a fair divide of chores, childcare, and other responsibilities. If one partner works full-time in the home, acknowledge the economic value of their work.
2. Speak out and call out. “The best way to make sure women are afforded equal opportunities in the workplace is to speak up when you see discrimination or areas that need to be improved,” says Georgene. “A great example is advocating to implement an inclusive paid parental leave policy.” Speaking out against workplace harassment and discrimination will not only help change your workplace experience, but will also change the experience for women later on. Using platforms such as Fairygodboss to review past and current workplaces will help future candidates understand the company’s view on equality and make informed decisions.
3. Use your political voice. Only seven percent of global political leaders are women, and women remain highly underrepresented in national parliament seats around the globe. Exercise your right to vote and consider supporting female candidates that align with your values.
4. Let your money speak. Women entrepreneurs are less likely to have access to capital for their businesses. By shopping and supporting women-owned businesses, we open new career opportunities for generations to come.
5. Lift up other women. When we support and make room for other women at the table, we have a better chance of succeeding in our fight toward gender equality. “I want to see a world where all women and girls get the support and opportunities that they need to drive and succeed,” says Molly about why she felt called to write Strong Women Lift Each Other Up. “One where women believe that they are enough just as they are, and they are happy to see other women succeed because they know there is enough success to go around. Ultimately, I want to see a world where there is equitable representation of women in all the important places and spaces where decisions are made, and that is not our reality.”