- According to the latest unemployment statistics, the ‘she-cession’ has already started.
- Organizations need to ensure that policies are designed to prevent (or at least reverse) some of the gender inequalities caused by the pandemic.
- Flexible work practices are not necessarily the answer when it comes to addressing gender imbalances in the workplace.
What is meant by a ‘she-cession?’
Many reports acknowledge the ‘she-cession’ as a real phenomenon. The term has been used to depict a growing recession currently being experienced by women who are working fewer hours, being paid less and experiencing higher levels of unemployment. The reasons for this are not that surprising and can all be linked to the economic fallout from COVID-19.
So what are some of the factors behind this ‘she-cession?
Firstly, between 2020 and 2021 the rate of unemployment for women has gone into double figures (16.2%) for the first time since the 80s. Comparatively, the latest figure for men’s unemployment is 13.5%.
One of the main reasons for this gender disparity is that low-paying roles were some of the first to go when the pandemic struck. Women are overrepresented in these sectors – such as manufacturing, hospitality and retail.
Another factor is that although gender norms have shifted considerably over the last fifty years, there is still a tendency for women to assume the role of the primary care-provider. In too many homes it was women who took on the role of home-schooling their children whilst schools were closed due to COVID and provided care for pre-school children when day-care centers were forced to close.
Before the pandemic, women spent six more hours a week than men on unpaid childcare. This gap unsurprisingly increased to 7.7 hours after lockdown.
Is the Flexi approach to work setting women up to fail?
2021 was a game-changer in terms of hybrid and flexi working – but was this shift entirely positive for women in the workplace? A policy maker, Catherine Mann, at The Bank of England is concerned about the ‘she-cession’ and the potential setback to the advancement of women in the workplace.
Just as flexible working has had the advantage of enabling more women to take jobs, women working from home are more likely to still have to collect the children, manage household chores and do various other administrative tasks (unpaid of course) outside of their professional role.
Working from home can often mean that there is no clear dividing line between personal and work priorities for women with dependents.
A disparity between the number of men and women returning to the workplace is also emerging
Following the pandemic, more men than women are returning to offices. Women are more likely than men to adopt a hybrid approach to work. This disparity could lead to women being less visible in the workplace and hence, less likely to be considered for career advancement.
Earlier in the pandemic it was believed that hybrid working and more flexible work practices would lead to greater gender parity at work.
However, it has since become clear that those who are not consistently based in the office are more likely to be overlooked for promotion and may miss out on career advancement opportunities.
It is crucial that organizations scrutinize the impact that any new policies will have on female employees in comparison to their male counterparts. Will their policies redress any gender imbalance or inequities caused by the pandemic?
Katica Roy, gender equity champion, CEO and founder of Pipeline, believes there needs to be assurance that this emerging disparity will not set women back from succeeding in the workplace and advancing their careers.
According to a recent article, a survey conducted by the UK’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that half of the UK’s working mothers are denied flexible working or only had their request partially accepted. It also found that 86% of women who worked flexibly had faced discrimination or other disadvantages as a result.
There seems to be a discrepancy in the UK with regards to how women want to work and how employers want them to work. It has become clear that increased flexibility at work can become a barrier to professional advancement.
The Bank of England Policy Maker, Catherine Mann, calls the disparity in the way in which men and women are returning to work a ‘two track approach.’ It’s back to the office for men versus a hybrid way of working for women. The disparity has drawn attention to the necessity of being present in the office in order to build career-advancing relationships.
Although women have broken so many barriers in the workplace, the pandemic has highlighted just how many women are still responsible for the lion’s share of household and childcare tasks.
It’s a contentious issue and some of the findings from recent reports are deeply concerning to many women who are struggling to redefine their work/life balance following the pandemic.
It’s not all disheartening news, as economists and gender equality experts are advocating for robust monitoring of how flexi working practices are affecting women’s prospects of advancement in the workplace. Hopefully their recommendations will be heeded and gender equality at work will prevail over the recession that many of us did not see approaching.
- Is Working from Home (Successfully) While Parenting Even Possible? (September, 2021)
- Women are Still Disproportionately Facing the Brunt of Burnout (September, 2021)
- Which Country Offers the Best Parental Leave? Hint: It’s Not America (November, 2021)
- 62% of Women Don’t Want Kids: This is Bad News for the Future of Work (October, 2021)