The global pandemic has been a world-changing event and it is inevitable that it has had, and will continue to have, repercussions for almost every part in society. While it continues to affect lives and livelihoods around the world, we can already see that its resulting fallout is impacting gender equality. McKinsey estimates that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs; the burden of unpaid childcare during school closures and caring for loved ones during lockdowns has been disproportionately carried by women as schools close, and sadly, rates of domestic violence are also on the rise.
The pandemic is contributing to another area of gender disparity – health. It has shone a harsh light on some of the health inequalities that persist, and research carried out by Bupa as part of the 2021 Workplace Wellbeing Census, found that a significantly larger proportion of women than men felt the pandemic has had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing – two thirds of women (66%) vs. 57% of men.
Whilst it’s inevitable that the scale of a global pandemic would affect almost everyone, its impact on women and their working lives is undeniable – our Census showed that a third (32%) of women felt their mental health negatively affected their work, and that many are struggling with the transition of working from home. A quarter (26%) have seen blurred lines between their work and home life, with the World Health Organisation suggesting that many women are finding themselves in an impossible situation of having to assume multiple care responsibilities, with some returning to traditional household roles, as well as their career workload. Whilst every woman’s situation is different, it’s clear that COVID-19 continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for many. What’s more, the long-term impact of the pandemic will have associated social and economic impact for women in many years to come.
How can organisations effectively respond and create conditions for optimal equity for women? Over the past few years, businesses have come a long way in recognising the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This is now stronger than ever, with more diverse companies more likely to outperform the less diverse on profitability. The pandemic therefore presents a golden opportunity for businesses to reconsider how they support women in all stages of their lives so they can fulfil their career potential, with no better place to start than women’s health. Employers have a responsibility to support their people and create cultures that are inclusive and where everyone can thrive and be mentally and physically at their best.
There’s still some taboo and gaps in information around women’s health. One of the few benefits of the pandemic is that it’s made us prioritise our health more than ever before. Let’s use this once in a lifetime opportunity to re-think how we can better support women’s health and wellbeing, starting in the workplace.
COVID-19 impact on women and gender equality | McKinsey