Covid-19 is causing a ‘shecession’ as pandemic impacts gender equality at work

The pandemic is causing a “shecession”, as progress for women in work falls back to 2017 levels, a PwC report has found.

The audit and consulting firm’s Women in Work Index comes as the UK government slowly reopens the economy after a third lockdown in England.

“In the UK, women were around a third more likely to work in a sector that was completely shut down during the first national lockdown than men, with accommodation and food services and arts, entertainment and recreation among the most impacted sectors,” said Larice Stielow, senior economist at PwC, in a 2 March release.

“Losing women from the workforce not only reverses progress towards gender equality, it also affects economic growth,” Stielow added. “Although jobs will return when economies bounce back, they will not necessarily be the same jobs.”

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The report, launched today measured gender pay gap, female labour force participation, the gap between male and female labour force participation, both female unemployment and full-time employment rate,

Stielow pointed to the accommodation and food services sector as an example: in October 2020, the industry recorded the highest number of furloughed jobs, totalling more than 600,000, and women make up 55% of jobs in this sector.

In its report analysing 33 countries, the UK ranked 16 in the Index against the OECD group of countries, which are led by Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand. It is second in the G7, however, behind Canada.

However, the report estimates that the nine-year streak of consistent gains towards women’s economic empowerment – across the OECD countries – will be reversed by 2.1 points between 2019 and 2021. This will begin to report by inching up 0.8 points in 2022.

In order to fully recover to pre-Covid levels by 2030, “gender equality needs to be twice as fast as its historical rate”.

“For businesses in particular, it’s paramount that gender pay gap reporting is prioritised, with targeted action plans put in place as businesses focus on building back better and fairer,” said Laura Hinton, PwC’s chief people officer.

According to PwC’s analysis, the UK lags behind other countries in the share of female employees in full-time employment: in 2019, only 64% of women in work were in full-time employment, as opposed to 89% of men.

In the UK, mandatory gender pay gap reporting will restart from October 2021, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said on 23 February.

The requirement to submit the reports was suspended at the beginning of the pandemic. Gender pay gap reporting, which has been mandatory for companies in the UK with 250 or more employees since 2017, means firms must report the salary difference between male and female workers.

READMandatory gender pay gap reporting to restart from October

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