“The effects of a crisis are never gender-neutral, and COVID-19 is no exception”. The United Nations, in a report published in September, warns of the effects the pandemic is having on the situation of women and the accentuation of gender inequality in the workplace that it is causing.
The pandemic and the measures to prevent its spread are causing a disproportionate increase in the unemployment rate of women (compared to men), as well as reducing their total number of working hours. In fact, according to UN estimates, by 2021 the coronavirus crisis will push 47 million women and girls into poverty. In addition, teleworking, school closures and home isolation have meant that “the unequal distribution of care work in the pre-existing household has had an asymmetrical impact, affecting women in particular”.
Coronavirus “could set us back 25 years in terms of equality for women”, said specialist Anita Bhatia. But for that not to happen, it’s essential that the economic sector and its companies, both public and private, continue to promote diversity and equality in the workplace, also reaping the many benefits that gender equality brings with it, in business and in life. Not for nothing could female leadership be the most effective rival against COVID-19.
Benefits of gender equality in the workplace and in managerial positions
A revealing fact: 60% of graduates in Europe are women, but they account for just over 13% in management roles. Why is it that so few qualified female workers reach top positions? The European Commission defines the glass ceiling as an “invisible barrier resulting from a complex web of structures in male-dominated organisations, which prevents women from reaching top positions“.
But what happens when women have equal access to jobs or when there is a commitment to retaining their talent? And when is the glass ceiling broken? The Harvard Business Review of Harvard Business School delves into the benefits of equality in the workplace and in senior positions on the basis of several studies:
- Better access to talent. Focusing efforts on recruiting women allows for a richer and broader talent pool. For example, in the late 1980s, Jack Rivkin, head of research at investment giant SLH, revamped his department’s practices to hire, develop and promote more women analysts. Within four years, almost 40% of his analysts were women, up from 10%, and more than 60% of the firm’s female analysts had star status, while the average for competitor firms was less than 30%. Moreover, this commitment to diversity and equity policies brings along greater credibility on the part of job applicants. All this helps companies to manage talent better.
- Decision-making. This gender equity brings with it an improvement in decision-making and problem-solving by having different approaches. In fact, this female presence also has a direct reflection on the commitment to innovation. According to the Harvard Business School study, male-dominated boards do not give as much priority to this branch of business.
- Increased engagement and retention of talent. Women tend to leave companies when they do not see possible ways forward. It’s therefore important that they perceive the presence of women in senior positions, so that they do not feel alienated and companies can retain their talent. While 45% of the European workforce is female, the proportion of women in management positions drops to 13%, a fact that in the current historical context cannot be underestimated.
- More leaders. Related to the previous point, the retention of talented women means that companies can have more female leaders, reinforcing equality between men and women in the workplace. In addition, notes Harvard Business Review, the so-called glass cliff – an emerging phenomenon where women obtain a leadership position in a place where the risk of failure is high – means that they have greater experience in crisis management.
- Greater benefits. And as if there were not enough reasons to go for equality in the workplace, here are the benefits. The International Labour Organisation found in 2019 that three out of four companies that had promoted the presence of women in management positions had recorded an increase in profits of 5% to 20%.
Towards a better future with more gender equality in the workplace
The coronavirus pandemic has hit hard at all levels of society, but especially at marginalised sectors. Women, as we have seen, have been particularly affected, but companies have within their reach all the possible tools to move towards a future with more gender equality in the workplace, in the professional environment. It’s important not to lose focus along the way because, as Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history, said, “we cannot all move forward if half of humanity is lagging behind”.