Covid-19 has sharpened inequalities faced by women in work – research

Women took on more family duties in pandemic than male colleagues, survey shows

Women in business have taken on more of the burden of family care in the pandemic than male colleagues, according to survey findings, which have raised concern that the Covid-19 crisis could reverse progress towards equality at work.

The research for Ibec, the business lobby group, suggests coronavirus has had a deep impact on the working lives of many women, sharpening inequalities that were already there before Covid-19 struck.

Some 20 per cent of companies surveyed noticed a change in the position of women in the past year, the research found, with employers citing increased pressure on female workers and more childcare responsibilities in the era of home-schooling.

Women had more early starts, late finishes and sought more time off to look after children and elderly family members.

“Historically women are disproportionately impacted by crises, disasters and societal disruption, and Covid-19 checks all those boxes,” said Dr Kara McGann, head of social policy with Ibec,

“Our survey findings confirm that Covid-19 has accentuated long-standing gender imbalances across several dimensions, threatening hard-won markers of gender equity.”

There were 271 respondents to the survey last month, more than half of them in the services sector and a little above one-third in manufacturing, while the remainder were in distribution. The findings confirm growing concerns that Covid-19 “has the potential to regress hard-earned progress” in gender equity, Ibec said.

Almost half of the respondents – 48 per cent – said more women than men had requested for changes to their working patterns to facilitate caring responsibilities. While only 3 per cent said more men than women made the same requests to alter work patterns, 31 per cent said similar numbers of women and men had sought such changes.

Unpaid leave

In addition, 31 per cent of respondents said that more female employees than males had asked for unpaid leave to facilitate caring responsibilities. Again, only 3 per cent said more men than women sought unpaid leave. Ibec said 19 per cent of respondents had similar numbers of men and women seeking such leave.

Although the visibility of women’s work in an organisation was a key factor in their career progression, only 8 per cent of respondents said they had trained managers to ensure visibility of female workers while remote working.

Dr McGann said: “The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.”