Securing the future of women’s employment

An All-Party Parliamentary Group webinar heard yesterday of how Covid has impacted women at work and what needs to be done to address it.

Woman In Mask Holding Sign At Shop Window Closed Due To Covid-19


More data is needed on women entrepreneurs – on the industries they are in and what they do – because the information that exists is mostly about women who are employed, an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work heard yesterday.

Damilola Ojuri, Women in Enterprise Portfolio Lead at the Federation of Small Businesses, said women business owners need to be part of the economic recovery, but little is known about who they are and in what sectors they work. She called for a voluntary tick box to be added to forms such as VAT forms to give policymakers and others a better picture about where women are working to ensure better support and services are offered to them.

Ojuri also called for equality impact assessments of policies linked to enterprise so that the Government can understand the intersectional issues that affect women in business.

And she said the FSB would like to see new programmes that open up finance platforms for women, bearing in mind that women tend to gravitate away from traditional platforms and towards alternative sources of finance such as crowdfunding. She added that there was also a need for women entrepreneurs to be more visible through role models or mentoring programmes, particularly given that male-dominted industries seemed to be at the heart of the Government’s build back agenda.

The FSB’s research shows that women entrepreneurs have been particularly hit badly by Covid, for instance, while more and more women entrepreneurs were interested in exporting pre-Covid, nearly 40% had seen a decrease in their export market as a result of the pandemic. The research suggested that, while the majority did not export, those who did seemed more vulnerable to economic crises.

Gender pay gap

The APPG was the first in a series on ‘securing the future of women’s employment’. Larice Stielow, Senior Economist, Strategy& UK, PwC, outlined the company’s research on women and work across 33 OECD countries over the last nine years. It showed that even pre-Covid it would take 112 years for women to close the gender pay gap, which stood at 15% on average across the countries [and 16% in the UK]. She also highlighted the gap between the percentage of women in full-time employment, considered the most secure form of employment, versus men and said that if every country had the same gap as exists in Sweden it would provide a $6tn boost to global GDP.

Covid had exacerbated these gaps due to the double shift in childcare/homeschooling, the gendered nature of the sectors hit by Covid and the fact women were more likely to be furloughed and therefore to be more at risk when furlough ends. The longer the higher burden of childcare on women continued the more risk there was that women would leave the workforce permanently, said Stielow, adding that, due to the damage done by Covid, the rate of progress would need to be doubled to catch up to where women were before in terms of narrowing the gender gap.

Stielow said there needed to be an assessment of the gendered impact of all policies, a recognition of the value of the unpaid work women do [it is estimated that it is equivalent to one tenth of the world’s GDP], more equal parental leave policies, sustained action on the gender pay gap, the extension of free childcare to those looking to retrain and an investment in opportunities for women in future growth areas.

Systemic bias

Kudsia Batool, Head of Equality and Strategy at the TUC, said Covid had ‘blown the cover’ on structural, systemic issues which held women back at work. She highlighted the impact of homeschooling on women, saying women had told the TUC they were working more hours than existed in the work. Their survey on working mums earlier this year received 55,000 responses within just two days, showing the strength of feeling about the issues affecting women, in particular exhaustion, fear [of losing their jobs in both the short and long term] and nervousness about asking for furlough or flexible hours.

Many had been faced with impossible choices around working or looking after their children. Many had been forced to take unpaid leave or reduced hours and had ended up having to resort to food banks. Many had furlough requests turned down or didn’t know that they could be furloughed because of lack of childcare. The TUC wants to see the Government Equalities Office prepare a roadmap out of Covid outlining the action that needs to be taken, equality impact assessments of all policies, a real living wage for workers, a statutory right to flexible working and paid carers’ leave and for women to be represented at all levels of organisations.

Mark Gale, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the Young Women’s Trust, spoke about the impact of Covid on young women who have often been the first to be furloughed and the last to be brought back into the workplace. There has been a big growth in insecurity and fear, he said, adding that there is concern about a rise in sexual harassment at work, with women worried about reporting it due to concerns they might lose their jobs.

Mental health is a big issue with 83% of young women the Trust surveyed saying their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, with many facing problems accessing support. Gale called for the uplift in benefits to be retained, for a rise in sick pay, for meaningful flexible working which was not one-sided, for employers to pay people based on the job they do not their previous salaries and for more wraparound support.

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