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Pandemic Could Stunt Workplace Equity Progress for Women

Among the many disruptions the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, a harmful setback could occur with equity in the workplace.


According to a survey of roughly 400 working women around the world by Deloitte Global, nearly 82% said their lives have been negatively disrupted by the pandemic, and nearly 70% of women who have experienced these disruptions are concerned about their ability to progress in their careers.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we've all had to adapt our daily lives. However, women are being impacted in profound ways, facing tremendous challenges and commonly taking on expanded duties at home while continuing to juggle their careers,” said Emma Codd, Deloitte Global Inclusion Leader. “We are at an inflection point. With no end to the pandemic currently in sight, organizations must meet the call to support the women in their workforces and ensure they can thrive both personally and professionally — or our economy and society could face long-standing repercussions.”

Countries represented in the survey include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The majority of women surveyed indicated they are married or living with a partner and more than a third said they are the primary income earners for their households. More than three quarters of respondents have at least one child, ranging in age from newborn to 19 or older, and nearly 20% said they have other dependents whose care is their responsibility.

Respondents who experienced shifts in their daily routine as a result of the pandemic indicated they now have more responsibility for household chores (65%) and a third also said their workloads have increased due to the pandemic. For those who cited adverse impacts as a result of shifts in their routine, the top negative consequences were: impact on physical well-being (40%); inability to balance work and life commitments (40%); and impact on mental well-being (39%).

Those with caregiving responsibilities in the home also have particular challenges, with the number of women shouldering 75% or more of such caregiving responsibilities almost tripling from 17% pre-pandemic to 48% at the time of surveying. Moreover, the majority of women with children reported added childcare responsibilities (58%) and home-schooling/education responsibilities (53%).

On the other hand, more women without caregiving responsibilities feel a need to be always available at work (53%) than those with caregiving responsibilities (44%). This translates to different types of stressors, including non-caregivers feeling more overwhelmed than their caregiving peers (58% vs. 41%).

A Career Threat
Along with having to adapt their daily lives in significant ways, many working women are also concerned about the impact the pandemic could have on their career progression both in the short and long terms.

While the vast majority of women surveyed see potential to progress in their careers over the next year in some way (e.g., by getting a promotion or pay increase, changing roles, or getting more responsibility), 60% question whether they want to progress at all when considering what they believe it will take to move up in their organization.

For example, 23% of respondents who feel they need to always be "on" for work fear they will end up having to choose between their personal responsibilities and their careers, and 10% of that same group think they may need to consider a career break or leave the workforce entirely.

How Organizations Can Help
In addition to analyzing women's current challenges and future work aspirations, Deloitte Global's research points to six key steps that organizations can implement now to support the women in their workforces during the pandemic. These steps include:

  • Making flexible working arrangements the norm,
  • Emphasizing trust and empathy,
  • Providing networking and mentoring opportunities,
  • Implementing learning experiences that work for employees' daily lives,
  • Addressing unconscious bias in succession and promotion planning and
  • Making diversity, respect, and inclusion non-negotiable values that are lived out in the everyday work culture.

“As organizations adapt to support women through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, our research demonstrates there's no one-size-fits-all approach,” said Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Deputy CEO and Chief People and Purpose Officer. “This next year will prove critical in our efforts to achieve gender diversity in the workplace. Businesses must prioritize flexibility, equity, and inclusion to support women in achieving their career ambitions.”

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