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 10th 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.
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.
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, PwC estimates it will take years – in some cases decades – to close the gaps and achieve gender parity between women and men in the global workplace:
- Female labour force participation rate (33 years to match men’s current 80-per cent rate)
- Female to male labour force participation rate gap (30 years to close the gap)
- Female unemployment rate (nine years to match men’s current rate)
- Female full-time employment rate (67 years to equal the current share of male employees in full-time employment)
- Gender pay gap (63 years to close the gap)
Increasing women’s participation in transition to net zero key to closing employment gap
Effective policy action is needed to achieve greater gender equality in workplaces globally. This means more flexible working options, particularly those addressing underlying gender inequalities in unpaid care and domestic work. Policies like equal paid parental leave that help 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. PwC’s analysis shows that the transition of economies to net zero 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 per cent of the female workforce.
If nothing is done to improve women’s representation in these sectors, PwC estimates 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 per cent in 2020 to 22.5 per cent in 2030).
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. Here, the employment gap is estimated to widen from 20.8 per cent to 22.0 per cent by 2030 in the absence of climate action, and to 22.5 per cent when taking account of the energy sector’s transition to net zero across OECD economies.