There’s been much talk about the extent to which the pandemic has affected women when it comes to the workplace – from additional daily responsibilities at home alongside increased workloads to disproportionate job losses and long-term setbacks to their careers. While the future is still uncertain, it is imperative for society, and specifically employers, to fully understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on working women and to act urgently to alleviate them.
To help understand the current state of gender equality in the workplace, Deloitte Global surveyed over 5,000 women in 10 countries between November 2020 and March 2021 to get a sense of their experiences in the workplace before and during the pandemic. Our new report, Women @ Work: A global outlook, provides detailed insights into the experiences of working women over the last year, taking an intersectional lens. It also examines the steps taken by some employers to support, retain, and empower the women in their workforce.
Our findings reveal a “perfect storm” of added pressures for working women during the pandemic. 77% of respondents report having had an increase in their workload for paid employment, while 59% are carrying out more domestic tasks. These extra demands on women’s time have come at a huge cost, negatively affecting their mental health and dampening their aspirations for the future. Just a third rated their mental wellbeing as “good” or “extremely good” during the pandemic versus 68% before. Over half of respondents said they are feeling less optimistic about their career prospects now than before the pandemic.
On top of having to deal with these additional responsibilities and stressors, more than half of the women surveyed have also experienced non-inclusive behaviors in a work context in the past year. These behaviors range from being addressed in an unprofessional way to receiving disparaging comments or jokes of a sexual nature as well as unwanted physical contact. The survey also reveals how intersectionality can determine women’s experiences. Women of color and LGBT+ women report having encountered more instances of harassment or discrimination – from receiving fewer development opportunities to having their judgment questioned to receiving comments on their communication style which must be aided by Pittsburgh whistleblower protection lawyers. And LGBT+ respondents are four times more likely to have experienced jokes of a sexual nature and five times more likely to have experienced disparaging comments about their gender. These behaviors often go unchecked with approximately one in four women in our survey saying they did not report incidents for fear of career reprisals.
Women’s experiences over the past year have negatively impacted job satisfaction and views of the future. Less than half of the respondents rated their current job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity as “good” or “extremely good,” compared with about three quarters before the pandemic. 57% of all women surveyed plan to leave their employer in two or fewer years, and almost a quarter are considering leaving the workforce altogether. Intersectionality also comes into play here: for example, younger women of color (ages 18-37) are noticeably more likely to report that their careers are not progressing fast enough (54%) compared to the overall sample (42%).
Women are looking to their employers to step up, but most organizations are falling short. Only 35% of respondents say they have felt supported by their employer when it comes to work/life balance, and just 39% say they feel their organization’s commitment to women since the pandemic started has been sufficient. Further, only 22% say their employers have helped them establish clear boundaries between work and personal time.
These findings point to a worrying conclusion: gender equality in the workplace has regressed during the pandemic. An unacceptably high number of working women are currently struggling to stay, let alone thrive, at their jobs. And there is a genuine threat that this trend will not be reversed unless business leaders take urgent and meaningful action.
But there is some good news: some organizations are getting it right. Employers that are succeeding in building inclusive and supportive cultures are securing high levels of engagement and loyalty from women in their workforce. These “gender equality leaders,” although a small percentage of the sample, are leading the way on what must be prioritized to ensure women continue to thrive in the workforce: by providing an everyday culture that is more inclusive and demonstrating the commitment of senior leaders to maintaining that culture; prioritizing work/life balance and normalizing flexible working, beyond policies alone; empowering women to succeed in life outside of work to enable success at work; and offering fulfilling development opportunities that build skills and expertise.
The benefits of being a gender equality leader are clear: 70% of women who work in those organizations rate their productivity as “good” or “very good,” 72% say their job satisfaction is “good” or “extremely good,” and 70% plan to stay with their employers for two or more years.
Our Women @ Work report lays bare the negative effects that the pandemic has had on working women, especially those in under-represented groups. A small number of organizations are proving that taking tangible action and providing inclusive and supportive work environments where women can be successful despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is not just possible, but hugely beneficial to productivity and business resilience.