Progress for women in work back at 2017 levels due to COVID-19

Women in work, progress, woman painting her own career path

Progress for women in work could be back at 2017 levels by the end of this year due to COVID-19, according to a new report.

PwC’s annual Women in Work Index found that a full recovery would be possible by 2030, but only if we double the rate of historical progress.

The Women in Work Index measures female economic empowerment across 33 OECD countries. For nine years, all countries across the OECD made consistent gains towards women’s economic empowerment. However, due to COVID-19 this trend will now be reversed, with the Index estimated to fall 2.1 points between 2019 and 2021. It will not begin to recover until 2022, where it should gain back 0.8 points, but in order to undo the damage caused by COVID-19 to women in work by 2030, progress towards gender equality needs to be twice as fast as its historical rate.

In the UK, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has meant that the pandemic’s full impact on the labour market is yet to be seen, but if current furlough data is indicative of future unemployment trends, a larger number of women will face the risk of job loss than men once the scheme ends in April.

Female-dominated industries, such as accommodation and food services and arts, entertainment and recreation, have the highest share of furloughed jobs in the country. Between July and October 2020, a total of 15.3 million jobs were furloughed in the UK. For furloughed jobs for which gender was known, 52 per cent of these were women’s jobs, despite women only making up 48 per cent of the workforce.


PwC-featured 2The Women in Work Index 2021 | PwC

The Women in Work Index 2021 is brought to you using the capability of Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business.

International Women’s Day 2021 is an opportunity for us to celebrate the successes that women have achieved in the workplace.

But the pace of progress towards gender equality across the OECD remains slow. And COVID-19 threatens to reverse the important gains that have been made in the last decade, as the negative impacts of the pandemic are disproportionately being felt by women.

Click here to download the full report


Speaking about the findings, Larice Stielow, senior economist at PwC, said, “In the UK, women were around a third more likely to work in a sector that was completely shut down during the first national lockdown than men, with accommodation and food services and arts, entertainment and recreation among the most impacted sectors.”

“In October 2020 for example, the accommodation and food services industry recorded both the highest number of furloughed jobs (more than 600,000) and the highest share of furloughed jobs within a sector (40 per cent).”

“Women make up 55 per cent of jobs in this sector.”

“By contrast, male-dominated industries of manufacturing and construction, both of which have faced fewer restrictions, furloughed only around 7 per cent of workers each.”

“Losing women from the workforce not only reverses progress towards gender equality, it also affects economic growth.”

“Although jobs will return when economies bounce back, they will not necessarily be the same jobs.”

“If we don’t have policies in place to directly address the unequal burden of care, and to enable more women to enter jobs in growing sectors of the economy, women will return to fewer hours, lower-skilled, and lower paid jobs.”


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About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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