From education to employment

Women’s careers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic

Sarah Kaiser, Employee Experience, Diversity & Inclusion Lead, EMEIA at Fujitsu

Women Empowerment: How Far Have We Come in Recent Years?

Here in the UK, the past year has been difficult for everyone. However, some experts believe that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Amidst fears that the UK risks ‘turning back the clock’ on gender equality during the pandemic, we must remember how far female empowerment has come and how vital it is that we keep the momentum going.

From economic empowerment to representation in the media, we’ve seen some serious achievements over recent years. We’ve shown that we can fight for equality, it’s now time to make sure that we keep going in the right direction despite the setbacks of the pandemic.

Let’s find out a bit more about the success stories.

Economic empowerment

Thanks to new opportunities and tackling stereotypes, we’ve seen a surge in women in the workforce over recent years. According to the Women in Work Index, the UK economy enjoys an annual boost of £48bn from increasing the proportion of women in the workforce.

We’ve also seen a decrease in the gender pay gap in the UK year-on-year. In 2019, for example, the difference between the average hourly earnings for men and women was 15.5 per cent – a great improvement compared to a the gap of 27.5 per cent in 1997. Despite this major progress, the gap itself is still undeniable. There is still a long way to go before the UK can boast complete gender equality in the workplace.

Encouraging women into traditionally male-dominated industries could have an incredible impact on the economy as well as empowering them. In fact, reducing the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) industries could increase the UK’s economy by £55 billion by 2030.

There are many reasons to continue fighting for women’s economic empowerment, and there’s much to be done to continue this positive trend after the pandemic.

Media representation

As well as an increased number of women in the workplace, we’ve also seen a greater representation of women in the media in recent years. The 2021 Oscars, for example, has already made history with two women being nominated for best director for the first time.

What’s more, female-led dramas have taken over in the UK, with female leads becoming a far more familiar sight on our TV screens. Shows such as I May Destroy You, Killing Eve, and Fleabag have all hailed incredible success over recent years. This signals a new age for female-led shows and a more diverse array of roles for female actors to dive into.

However, we can’t celebrate complete equality in the entertainment industry quite yet. According to data from Nesta, the percentage of female crew members in the UK film industry is increasing year by year, but progress has been relatively slow. The percentage has risen from 3 per cent in 1913 to 34 per cent in 2017, but there’s still a long way to go to reach full equality in this sector.

Feminism for everyone

Another way in which we’ve seen female empowerment thrive in recent years is the influence of feminism on social media. Today, you can find influencers on social media promoting just about everything, from the latest tech to bandeau bikinis. Many such influencers have also used their far-reaching platform to spread messages of female empowerment. Influencers talk about body positivity and self-love in a way that allows everyone to have access to feminism in a fun and engaging way.

As well as social media platforms, many feminism-centred blogs have popped up over the past few years. Blogs allow women everywhere to get their voices heard and connect, making feminism more accessible to everyone.

There are so many facets to the female empowerment movement. For every step in the right direction, however, there are so many other things that are yet to be done. As the coronavirus pandemic threatens to undo the vital work of previous years, we must remember what has already been achieved and fight for a more equal future for women everywhere.

Sarah Kaiser, Employee Experience, Diversity & Inclusion Lead, EMEIA at Fujitsu

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected women in work?

How has the labour market changed for women since the start of the pandemic, and what will this mean for the future of women in work?

8th March 2021: The pandemic has had a large effect on the labour market, with a rise in unemployment, economic inactivity and redundancies. Women are more likely to work in the most affected sectors and more women have been furloughed. Mothers and women from minority ethnic groups have been especially impacted.

On International Women’s Day 2021 we examine how the labour market has changed for women since the start of the pandemic, which women are most affected, and what these changes might mean for the future of women in work.

Covid-19 and women in work

To measure the impact of the coronavirus on jobs, we can compare data from the ONS from the quarter just before the pandemic began, January-March 2020, with the latest quarter, October-December 2020.

Women’s employment has fallen since the start of the pandemic

232,000 fewer women were employed in October-December 2020 than in January-March 2020, a fall of 1.5%. The employment rate for women (percentage of women aged 16-64) dropped from 72.6% in January-March 2020 to 71.8% in October-December 2020.

In comparison, although more men than women are employed, employment for men has dropped by a larger percent: 2.2%. The employment rate for men decreased from 80.1% January-March 2020 to 78.2% in October-December 2020.

A chart shows employment rate for men and women aged 16-64 in 2020
Source: ONS, Labour market bulletin, Table A02

This drop in employment is driven by a fall in part-time work

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of women in part-time employment has decreased by 541,000. However, women in full-time employment has increased by 309,000, while both part-time and full-time employment for men decreased. The reason for this increase is still unclear, but it could be due to a movement from self-employed to employee status.

A chart shows changes in full-time and part-time employment since Q4 2019 for women aged 16+
Source: ONS, Labour market bulletin, Table A02.

Women and men have seen a similar rise in unemployment, but men have seen a bigger increase in inactivity

Unemployment levels for women rose by 174,000 since the start of the pandemic, an increase of 28%. Economic inactivity levels (people out of work and not looking for work) increased by 1.4%.
Unemployment has increased by around the same proportion for men (27%) as women (28%), but men have seen a larger rise in economic inactivity, an increase of 4%.

A chart shows unemployment rate and economic inactivity rates for men and women in 2020
Source: ONS, Labour market bulletin, Table A02

Redundancies have risen sharply for both women and men

Redundancy levels for women rose from 46,000 in January-March 2020 to 143,000 in October-December 2020, an increase of 212%. In the same period, redundancies for men increased by 229%.

More women hold jobs eligible for furlough

At 31 January 2021, 2.32 million jobs held by women were on furlough on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), 15% of eligible jobs.

This is compared to 2.18 million (also 15%) jobs held by men. Since the start of the CJRS, for the most part, slightly more jobs held by women have been furloughed than men.

The reason why more women are furloughed than men, but furlough rates are the same, is because more women hold jobs eligible for furlough.

In 2019, 57% of workers in sectors subsequently shut down by the pandemic were women. This compared to a workforce average of 48%. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, women were about one third more likely to work in a sector that was shut down by the pandemic than men.

The Fawcett Society has raised concerns that jobs in sectors traditionally dominated by women like hospitality, retail and tourism may not return after the pandemic. The Women and Equalities Committee’s report in February 2021 noted that women are traditionally underrepresented in sectors that have been singled out for Government investment.

Some women have been particularly affected

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, by May 2020, mothers were 1.5 times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit since March, and were more likely to have been furloughed.

The Fawcett Society also found 35% of working mothers have lost work or hours due to a lack of childcare support during the pandemic.

The Fawcett Society found that half of employed women from minority ethnic groups and 43% of employed women from White ethnic groups are worried about job or promotion prospects due to the pandemic. This compared with 35% of employed White men. The data does not state if White minority ethnic groups are included in the 43%.

Flexible working could be a positive outcome of the pandemic

According to the Fawcett Society, flexibility around working hours and location is key to balancing paid work with unpaid care work, of which women do the bulk.

According to TUC, before the pandemic, only 40% of workers could choose flexible hours, and 30% of requests for flexible working were turned down.

Before the pandemic, 20% of workers were doing some work at home, but during the first lockdown in March-May, around 50% of people who continued to work did so from home, with similar proportions of men and women doing so.

The Fawcett Society said:

Post-pandemic, we need to move to a new normal for flexible working which allows workers to adopt a hybrid model of home and workplace flexibility as well as flexing their working hours

Women and Equalities Committee report warns that working from home risks “permanent home workers being left out of the career ladder,” but concludes that working from home should nonetheless be made easier.

Brigid Francis-Devine is a researcher at the House of Commons Library and specialises in labour markets, poverty and inequality

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