Numerous efforts and reforms have been put in place to enhance gender equality over the past decade. Despite developments in labour laws inequality persists, only 7.4% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are females. In some countries, women are still earning 60-75% of what men earn. The wage gap is driven by employment segregation; women are concentrated in lower-paying sectors and occupations. Additionally, women face several hurdles such as social norms and gender roles (including around childcare, appropriate careers, mobility).
Is COVID-19 taking us backwards in the fight for gender equality in the workplace?
The COVID-19 pandemic is posing a threat to women’s employment and livelihoods as it deepens pre-existing inequalities and exposes cracks in social, political, and economic systems. Unlike previous economic crises, this pandemic will negatively affect women more than men, creating a significant blow for gender equality. Women working in developing countries are most likely to be working in the informal sector more frequently than men, and therefore have less job security and social protection, as well as lower pay. Also, women still carry the highest-burden of housework. As the reopening of schools is uncertain, fears of contagion of the most vulnerable can lead to women exiting the labour force for a prolonged period, entailing long-term costs to their careers.
Is remote work helping gender equality?
Remote work makes it possible to hire more women. Married women are less likely to relocate for a job opportunity. With remote work, it is easier to take up any job opportunity regardless of geographical location. It is also easier for women to pursue their careers and care for their families at the same time.Nonetheless, a study suggests that remote working leads to mothers doing a disproportionate amount of housework and child care compared to fathers. Research suggests that among employees who are working remotely, more women are suffering emotionally.
The 10 Principles of the UN Global Compact emphasises gender equality as a human right. This principle encourages businesses to respect human rights as it is the right thing to do. It helps strengthen relationships with its stakeholders. During times like this (i.e. the COVID-19 pandemic), all forms of human rights should be taken seriously. Businesses can support employees who do not have the needed tools and skills to work remotely, with training. This will contribute to reducing the gender gap concerning the use of technologies.
Respecting human rights also includes communicating clearly and regularly. Gender-sensitive language must also be considered and both genders must be considered in decision making. Even with remote work, there should be a balanced gender ratio when appointing workgroups is also important.
Another relevant principle is principle 6: labour. In such a time where people are losing family members and friends, and fear is wrapped all around us, job security is crucial. Businesses should uphold the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, irrespective of gender. Understanding the different situations employees face and how comfortable they can work during this period is a needed component for business leadership. Thanks to remote work, discrimination is likely to be on a decline. Nonetheless, employers should restructure the roles of employees to ensure that work-life balance is a must.
With the COVID-19 effect, business strategies must be made sustainable with the above-stated principles to ensure gender inclusivity. The well-being of employees affects productivity. Hence measures should be considered to reflect the importance of gender equality in remote work.