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3 ways to build equal workforces as COVID-19 dents women’s career prospects

International Women’s Day marks almost a full year from when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic

By: EBR - Posted: Monday, March 8, 2021

«The hiring outlook for women is a lot better than this time last year, but there is an urgent need to make up the lost ground caused by the pandemic.»
«The hiring outlook for women is a lot better than this time last year, but there is an urgent need to make up the lost ground caused by the pandemic.»

by Karin Kimbrough*

International Women’s Day marks almost a full year from when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. And the data tells a clear story about the impact the pandemic has had for women’s careers. While the picture is challenging there are lessons we can, and must learn, from the last year.

Last Spring, as governments implemented measures to protect people from the virus, hiring fell as much as 70% in some economies. Even more worryingly, LinkedIn’s hiring data showed a consistent theme: the share of women being hired was falling sharply.

Looking more closely at the share of hires by gender from January 2019 to January 2021 finds the share of women being hired fell sharply in March and April 2020, before recovering to pre-pandemic levels over the course of 2020. For example, in the UK, women made up 45.8% of all hires in January 2021, compared to 42.2% in April 2020. In the US, women accounted for 49.3% of hires in January 2021, versus 44.4% in April 2020. After a sharp drop in women’s hiring during the initial COVID-19 wave, the pace of women’s hiring slowed slightly in subsequent COVID-19 waves.

While it is positive that the hiring outlook for women is a lot better than this time last year, analysis of LinkedIn’s data shows there is an urgent need to make up the lost ground caused by the pandemic. Simply put, in the last year, we’ve seen that women’s hiring has proven to be more vulnerable than men’s and COVID-19 has likely had a more damaging impact on the careers of women versus their male counterparts.

Our analysis found several factors are to blame. Women tend to take on a larger share of caregiving responsibilities in the home, which continue to be disrupted by school and other closures. Our research among working professionals in the UK found that 41% of women said they had left or considered leaving the workforce, either permanently or temporarily, with stress (57%), too much responsibility at home and work (33%) and lack of childcare (14%) being the key reasons cited.

We’ve also seen that women were more adversely impacted by labour market disruptions to the retail, travel, and leisure industries, that often require in-person presence and can be harder to do remotely. Those industries employ a relatively greater share of women versus men in most countries.

In fact, our analysis of industry hiring trends found that the industries that were most heavily impacted by the pandemic struggled to hire women and this was a driving factor in women’s hiring falling sharply across economies as a whole. In France, for example, in the ten months since the pandemic started, many industries have fallen behind on progress in hiring women. In the Recreation and Travel industry, the share of women being hired fell by as much as three percentage points. Healthcare, which has been more resilient in the pandemic, made a gain of nearly two percentage points.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report that will be published at the end of March will take a deeper dive into women’s careers. For now, the current data already shows clear steps to recover the damage caused by the pandemic and build equal workforces and societies.

3 short-term steps to make an immediate difference:

1. Open schools and address care options

It is clear that closing schools and other facilities has had an outsized impact on working women, who are more likely to take on caregiving responsibilities. Governments can help by recognizing this and focusing on policies that provide support for caregivers, including prioritizing full-time school openings.

2. Increase flexible working opportunities

Employers can also play a big role by actively seeking female talent and by offering more flexibility to allow for a better work-life balance. We’ve heard from LinkedIn members that working mothers are shouldering a heavy burden and LinkedIn data finds that women are 26% more likely to apply for remote-working jobs than men. To ensure women do not have to choose between their family and their careers, flexible working opportunities are a must.

3. Attract more women by using the right language

We’ve also seen that language matters. How companies describe themselves and the roles that they are advertising, has an impact on their ability to attract a gender-balanced workforce. For example, our research has found that 44% of women would be discouraged from applying to a role if the word ‘aggressive’ was included in the job advert.

Unpicking the impact of COVID on women and the labour market as a whole is going to take time, but there are steps we can and must embrace right now that will make a difference.

*Chief Economist, LinkedIn
**first published in: www.weforum.org

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