Women, Work, and COVID-19: Why We Need To Rely On Sisterhood More Than Ever

Written by Lisa Vannuccini, Contributor, December 2020

2020 has been a year unlike any other. While the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is horizontal in a certain way (United Nations, 2020), as it affects the worldwide population from an economic, social and political aspect, it’s abundantly clear that it hits each one of us differently.

The impact of Covid-19 turns out to be worse for those who simply belong to certain categories: students of any age, fresh graduates, people living in underprivileged contexts, jobseekers, women (UN Women, 2020a). Being part of some of the above categories myself, I would say that I am quite used to feeling uncertain. We, people in our almost thirties (Hoffower, 2019) are living one of the hardest crises the world ever faced in the last few decades. But we also happen to be familiar with changes, agility, precariousness, not having long-term expectations: it’s just the ordinary for us. And yet, it is still hard to find daily motivation and cope with all of this. In many ways, knowing that we’re all in this together consoles me, and relying on people around me, especially other women, makes me feel better.

Just as it happens in many other situations, being a woman in period of crisis represents a disadvantage, if not an obstacle. On top of that, it gets worse when social identities overlap, and being a woman represents only only one of the reasons a person may experience discrimination (UN Women, 2020b).

While thinking of women in the workplace during the Covid-19 outbreak, it’s painful to reflect on things such as inequality, sufferance and injustice, which have only gotten worse. Here are some important key takeaways to bear in mind.


3 key facts of women in the workplace during the pandemic


Women are at the frontline

In Europe, it is more likely for women to be employed in occupations where the risk of contracting Covid-19 is higher. That means that women compromise the majority of the frontline (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2020a; OECD, 2020), even if they are underrepresented (Van Daalen et al., 2020) in the male-predominant taskforces and decision-making processes in the fight against Covid-19.

Particularly in the healthcare sector, they represent 76% of the workforce (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2020b), and that’s without considering the undeclared employment in domestic care, which might be underestimated. Women represent:

• 93 % of childcare workers and teachers’ aides

• 86 % of personal care workers in health services

• 95 % of domestic cleaners and helpers

These figures indicate that women are jeopardizing their own lives to save others, despite being segregated in lower social, economic and political conditions.


Women are more exposed to the negative impact of the crisis

The gender gap in labor markets position women in a disadvangaged economic situation (Eurostat, 2020a; European Commission, n.d.; European Institute for Gender Equality, 2020c). With the representation of women in education, healthcare and social work being more consistent than men’s, we need to stress the fact that these sectors are traditionally low paid, with consequences that affect life long processes and decisions such as social protection, parenthood and/or investments. The restrictions due to the Covid-19 outbreak are also more significant in female-dominant precarious jobs, such as tourism or sales assistance, which are being affected by closures and reductions.

In addition to this, women’s employment rate is still lower than men’s. In 2019, the unemployment rate for women in the European Union was 7.1%, while for men it was estimated at 6.4%. We also have to consider that 30% of employed women worked part-time. All this leads to a more inclining attitude of women interrupting work for domestic care.

In fact, McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace report (Coury et al., 2020) is not surprising in any way, particularly when understanding findings such as the fact that “one out of three mothers are considering leaving the workplace,” reducing working hours or downshifting careers. Needless to say, this potentially leads to critical consequences not only for women themselves, but also for companies, economic systems and societies as a whole.


Women are more likely to suffer from a lack of work-life balance

The increase of telework could represent a good solution for work-life balance, as it ideally improves domestic and professional life management. But in times like these, working from home also represents the merging of all life activities (domestic, work, and family care), with a disproportional increase of wellbeing related problems for women.

Historically, women have been in charge of the domestic workload and, unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have changed too much in the past years. According to a 2019 Eurostat Database (Eurostat, 2020b), women are still more engaged than men in household activities, which include unpaid work such as food management, child and/or elderly care, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and shopping, among others, with an average gender gap of 3 to 4 hours per day. Boston Consulting Group’s 2020 survey (Krentz, Kos, Green, & Garcia-Alonso, 2020) shows that women spend on average 15 hours a week more than men on domestic labor, stressing an unequal condition that already existed in an exaggerated way.

Lastly, women have been coping with stress, anxiety, and health-related problems more than ever this year, all while conducting domestic and professional activities in parallel (Marsh, 2020).


Ways in which we can support each other

Spread awareness. Women have been growing up in societies that systemically forces domestic care on them, where male leaders prevail and inequalities and injustice are the norm. In order to acknowledge what is wrong in all this and take action to make it better, the first step is being aware. Share news, talk about influencing role models, and discuss women in underrepresented positions.

Reach out to your girlfriends and family members. Maintaining and strengthening relationships may be hard in the current day-to-day routine. But sharing emotions and feelings with people that are experiencing similar challenges may help. Relying on others also lightens our burdens, and this might powerfully help your friends, your relatives and yourself realize that we are all in this together.

If you are a man. Educate yourself. Read. Listen to the women around you. Acknowledge the challenges and struggles that women all around the world have been facing. Pay attention to your habits and do whatever you can to reduce barriers and promote gender equality.

Lend a hand in any way you can. Look for organizations, corporate networks, and local associations that support women and ask to help out. Other people’s rights are everyone’s rights, and there’s always room for assistance and improvement. Stepping out of our comfort zone and having each other’s backs is an act of sisterhood, and we need to rely on sisterhood more than ever.

Let’s do our best.


Support Gender Equality in European workplaces with Fireside


Written by Lisa Vannuccini
About the Author
About the Author

Lisa Vannuccini is an Educator and holds a Masters Degree in International Human Resources Management from the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas.


*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Humans of HR.


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The Humans of HR is a Digital Social Enterprise that is on a mission to humanize the world of work. We aspire to be recognized as a high quality International HR & Business media outlet for a diverse body of professionals from all over the world. Our Magazine currently reaches readers in over 80 counties.

We believe everyone is entitled to have access to professional content that is backed up by relevant sources, as well as the work of the global scientific community, no matter where they come from. That is the reason why we started writing, and also why we will continue to do so. In order to keep growing and keep our content open to our global audience, we would like for you to consider supporting our work.

Your contribution is highly appreciated.

The Humans of HR is a Digital Social Enterprise that is on a mission to humanize the world of work. We aspire to be recognized as a high quality International HR & Business media outlet for a diverse body of professionals from all over the world. Our Magazine currently reaches readers in over 80 counties.

We believe everyone is entitled to have access to professional content that is backed up by relevant sources, as well as the work of the global scientific community, no matter where they come from. That is the reason why we started writing, and also why we will continue to do so. In order to keep growing and keep our content open to our global audience, we would like for you to consider supporting our work.

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References


Coury, S., Huang, J., Kumar, A., Prince, S., Krivkovich, A., & Yee, L. (2020). Women in the workplace | mckinsey. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace#

European Commission. (n.d.). Women’s situation in the labour market [Text]. European Commission. Retrieved May 7, 2021, from https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/gender-equality/women-labour-market-work-life-balance/womens-situation-labour-market_en

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2020a). Coronavirus puts women in the frontline. European Institute for Gender Equality. https://eige.europa.eu/news/coronavirus-puts-women-frontline

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2020b). Essential workers. European Institute for Gender Equality. https://eige.europa.eu/covid-19-and-gender-equality/essential-workers

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2020c). Economic hardship. European Institute for Gender Equality. https://eige.europa.eu/covid-19-and-gender-equality/economic-hardship-and-gender

Eurostat. (2020a). Women’s employment in the EU. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/EDN-20200306-1

Eurostat. (2020b). How do women and men use their time—Statistics. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=How_do_women_and_men_use_their_time_-_statistics&oldid=463738#Average_time_spent_in_employment_is_6_h_30_min_to_8_hours_per_day

Hoffower, H. (2019). The Great Recession created a domino effect of financial struggles for millennials—Here are 5 ways it shaped the generation. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-great-recession-affected-millennials-2019-8

Krentz, Matt, Kos, E., Green, A., & Garcia-Alonso, J. (2020, July 15). Easing the covid-19 burden on working parents. BCG Global. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/helping-working-parents-ease-the-burden-of-covid-19

Marsh, S. (2020, October 9). Women bear brunt of Covid-related work stress, UK study finds. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/oct/09/women-bear-brunt-of-covid-related-work-stress-uk-study-finds

OECD. (2020). Women at the core of the fight against COVID-19 crisis. OECD; OECD. https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/women-at-the-core-of-the-fight-against-covid-19-crisis-553a8269/

United Nations. (2020). Everyone Included: Social Impact of COVID-19. https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/everyone-included-covid-19.html/

UN Women. (2020a). How COVID-19 impacts women and girls. https://interactive.unwomen.org/multimedia/explainer/covid19/en/index.html

UN Women. (2020b). Intersectional feminism: What it means and why it matters right now. UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/6/explainer-intersectional-feminism-what-it-means-and-why-it-matters

Van Daalen, K. R. van, Bajnoczki, C., Chowdhury, M., Dada, S., Khorsand, P., Socha, A., Lal, A., Jung, L., Alqodmani, L., Torres, I., Ouedraogo, S., Mahmud, A. J., Dhatt, R., Phelan, A., & Rajan, D. (2020). Symptoms of a broken system: The gender gaps in COVID-19 decision-making. BMJ Global Health5(10), e003549. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2020-003549

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