Higher female unemployment and a greater proportion of women leaving the labour market due to the COVID-19 pandemic has set back progress towards gender equality in work by at least two years, according to PwC’s latest analysis.
PwC’s Women in Work Index, now in its tenth edition, assesses women’s employment outcomes across 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. After a decade of slow but consistent gains from women in work across the OECD, the Index fell for the first time in its history.
The two main contributing factors to the Index decline were higher female unemployment and lower female participation rates during the worst of the pandemic. The Index estimates a “COVID-19 gap”, which compares job losses to the employment growth projected prior to the pandemic, finding there were 5.1 million more women unemployed and 5.2 million fewer women participating in the labour market than would be the case had the pandemic not occurred.
Childcare and domestic work responsibilities played a significant role in causing women to leave the workforce. An OECD report on gender inequalities in caregiving and labour market outcomes during COVID-19 shows women took on more unpaid childcare responsibilities during the pandemic, causing them to leave the workforce at higher rates than men.1 Mothers were three times more likely than fathers to report taking on either the majority, or all, of the additional unpaid care work created by school or childcare facility closures.2
Larice Stielow, Senior Economist, PwC UK said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has made the goal of gender equality for women in work even more of a challenge. To reverse the setback to women’s employment outcomes, we need governments and businesses to lead the way by rebuilding our economies with effective policies which explicitly consider the needs of women and other disadvantaged groups. This is essential if we are to improve equality and achieve a fairer future for everyone in both work and society.”
PwC’s Women in Work Index is based on five indicators that reflect women’s participation in the global labour market and equality in the workplace. Given the slow progress made over the past 10 years against each of the five indicators, and lost ground due to the pandemic, we estimate it will take years – in some cases decades – to close the gaps and achieve gender parity between women and men in the global workplace:
Increasing women’s participation in the transition to net zero will be key to closing the employment gap
Effective policy action is needed to achieve greater gender equality in workplaces globally. This means more flexible working options, particularly that address the underlying gender inequalities in unpaid care and domestic work. Policies like equal paid parental leave that help to redistribute the unequal burden of care carried by women.
Even more critical will be the need for government and business to support women to benefit from the job opportunities created by the transition of OECD economies to net zero. The next decade of work will be shaped to a large extent by the transition of economies to net zero emissions. Our analysis shows that the net zero transition will increase jobs overall, with more jobs in 2030 in 15 out of 20 sectors across the OECD economies. However, the largest proportional gains in jobs will be in utilities, construction and manufacturing, which are disproportionately underrepresented by women. These sectors currently employ nearly a third of the male workforce across the OECD, compared to only 11% of the female workforce.
If nothing is done to improve women’s representation in these sectors, PwC estimates that the employment gap between men and women across the OECD - which measures the additional number of men in employment, expressed as a percentage of the number of employed women - will widen by 1.7 percentage points by 2030 (rising from 20.8% in 2020 to 22.5% in 2030).3
Emma Cox, Global Climate Leader, Partner, PwC UK said: “Business and governments can do more to provide targeted support for women to help them take advantage of new green jobs. This includes identifying barriers to entry for women in green growth sectors, upskilling and reskilling and improving access to finance for women entrepreneurs who will play a key role in the transition to net zero.”
The rewards from accelerating progress towards gender equality could be significant. PwC’s analysis finds that increasing women’s employment across the OECD could boost OECD gross domestic product (GDP) by US$6 trillion per annum.* Meanwhile, closing the gender pay gap could boost women’s earnings across the OECD by US$2 trillion per annum.**
Notes to editors
*This refers to the gross economic gains per annum from boosting female employment rates to match Sweden’s. Men’s employment rates are assumed to be constant. Gains reported are in nominal terms.
**This refers to the gross economic gains per annum. Gains reported are in nominal terms.
About the PwC Women in Work Index
The PwC Women in Work Index, now in its tenth edition, assesses women’s employment outcomes across 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries based on five indicators that reflect women’s participation in the global labour market and equality in the workplace.
These five indicators include: the gender pay gap, the female labour force participation rate, the gap between male and female labour force participation rates, the female unemployment rate and the female full-time employment rate.
1 OECD. 2021. ‘Caregiving in crisis: Gender inequality in paid and unpaid work during COVID-19’. https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/caregiving-in-crisis-gender-inequality-in-paid-and-unpaid-work-during-covid-19-3555d164/#endnotea0z5
2 OECD 2020. ‘OECD Risks that Matter (RTM) 2020 survey’. https://www.oecd.org/social/risks-that-matter.html
3 This is based on PwC’s analysis of International Labour Organisation (ILO) scenario data on jobs composition by sector in 28 OECD countries at 2030. The employment gap is estimated to widen from 20.8% to 22.0% by 2030 in the absence of climate action, and to 22.5% whe
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