PwC warns that the Covid crisis has set progress for women back to 2017 levels, but there is an even bigger problem; female-dominated jobs in the caring professions offer lamentably low pay levels anyway.
In the UK, "female-dominated industries, such as accommodation, food services, arts, entertainment and recreation, have the highest share of furloughed jobs in the country," warns PwC. The professional services firm warned that job losses were more pronounced among women across the OECD than men in 17 of the 24 OECD countries that reported job losses.
Of course, we don't know what will happen when furlough comes to an end, but the suspicion that many furloughed workers will be laid-off, won't go away. According to PwC, in the nine years before Covid, all OECD countries "made consistent gains towards women's economic empowerment." But this came to a sharp reversal with Covid.
According to Larice Stielow, senior economist at PwC, 55 per cent of workers in the accommodation and food services industry are women, but 40 per cent of all jobs in the sector were furloughed. She said: "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."
There is another issue, of course. Other sectors that have a disproportionately high number of female workers did not necessarily furlough many workers, but these areas often see shamefully low levels of pay.
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The caring professions, such as nursing, paid carers or unpaid carers, provide an incredibly important service to society, but they are typically poorly paid.
The Covid crisis brought this home in the UK; for example, people stood outside their front doors once a week during lockdown and clapped for the NHS.
Wages are meant to be a function of productivity. But to argue, nurses or carers are not productive is absurd. The problem is not their workload, output, skill sets, or the incredible importance of the work. It is simply that society has chosen not to pay for these jobs, especially well.
This is less of a problem in countries where the markets provide healthcare — but there are apparent social issues with that system.
The real challenge in countries like the UK is that the taxpayer/government is unwilling to pay for these services' true cost via higher taxes.
And in the US, where healthcare insurance costs are enormous, there is resistance to the idea of higher taxes to pay for state-provided healthcare, even though the resulting fall in health insurance will almost certainly be greater in cost than the rise in taxes.
Returning to the PwC report, Laura Hinton, Chief People Officer at PwC, said: "Based on our findings, there is absolutely no time to lose in addressing the very real impact of the pandemic on women. Governments, policymakers and businesses all have a responsibility to work together to empower women and create opportunities for meaningful participation in the workforce."
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