Why the pandemic must mark a positive watershed moment for gender equality
LinkedIn’s latest insights published in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report make for difficult reading. Not only does the report paint a worrying picture of the state of gender equality today and the disproportionate hit the pandemic has had on working women, but all the indicators are that we are also storing up trouble for ourselves in the future. While we have a long way to go on gender equality, this year’s report shows that we can make progress if we learn the lessons from the pandemic and focus our actions, starting today.
Strides toward equality risk becoming undone
We know that COVID-19 has taken a harder toll on women’s careers. That’s partly due to the occupational segregation of the labour market; women work more in industries that have been hardest hit by restrictions, such as the hospitality and travel sectors. But it’s also because we saw a large reversion to traditional gender roles as working-from-home became widespread. The reality is that school and childcare closures saw women take more responsibility for childminding and supervision of remote learning. That stepping up at home often came at the cost of stepping back at work. LinkedIn data shows that female hiring rates fell significantly during the initial stage of the pandemic - one indicator of how women’s careers were held back.
Our data also revealed a marked decline of women being hired into leadership roles since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year. This has effectively undone 1-2 years of progress across multiple industries, in sectors like Professional Services, Retail, Education, and Recreation and Travel. It is particularly worrying that senior women have lost their seat at the table, particularly when we know the influence and impact this has on driving long-term progress on gender equality.
What we do today shapes our future
What’s even more concerning from this year’s report is the severe gender gap that we see in roles that are growing the fastest, and how little progress has been made in these roles over the last few years. For example, the current share of women in Cloud Computing roles is 14.2% - up a scant 0.2 percentage points since 2018 - which is barely a blip in terms of momentum. Not only do we need to ensure women are getting equal access to the jobs of tomorrow, but these roles - Cloud Computing, Engineering, Data, AI - are precisely the roles that will play a significant role in shaping all aspects of technology and how it is deployed in the world. One of the clear consequences of the pandemic is the rapid acceleration in digitisation and the integration of technology into all aspects of our lives. We have to have women’s voices and perspectives represented at this foundational, formative stage, and playing an equal role in determining what technologies are developed, how they’re deployed and the impact they have.
Forging a fairer future
Without intervention today, it is going to be even more difficult to address gender inequality as we emerge from the pandemic. Companies and governments have to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are key pillars of their plans for recovery. This means encouraging a fairer distribution of care-giving responsibilities and addressing the double burden that many working women face; developing programmes to fastrack gender diversity across leadership roles; and tackling the root causes of the issue by changing the way we source and develop talent in organisations.
We also need to recognise the specific challenges around gender disparity in fast-growing, future-facing roles. Core to this is breaking down the barriers to these professions, and that includes making these areas of work more attractive for women. There is also a real opportunity to help women reskill for these roles and pivot into these sectors mid-career. Skills based hiring is going to be crucial in making this happen; we need to look beyond formal qualifications and assess, recruit and develop talent based on skills and potential if we’re to achieve a more inclusive workforce and society.
Learning lessons from the pandemic
The findings of the Global Gender Gap Report have important lessons for how we rebuild our economies in the wake of the pandemic. While the pandemic has brought immense challenges, it has created a huge amount of upheaval and change and we need to seize this moment to drive real change for gender equality. It is within our power to change these numbers; we can and we must. Let’s make sure that when we review next year’s Global Gender Gap Report, we will be able to point to the actions we took and the difference it made.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report can be viewed here