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COVID-19 and Work-life balance: How can business leaders encourage gender equality?

Georgia Skandali 13 Apr 2021 COVID-19 and Work-life balance: How can business leaders encourage gender equality? blog image

The COVID-19 pandemic is more than a public health crisis. Lockdown measures have deepened pre-existing inequalities and exposed cracks in social, political and economic systems. One of those substantial societal effects is gender inequality in work-life balance.

While everyone is facing unprecedented challenges, research shows that women are bearing the impacts of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19. According to the American Progress Center, four times as many women as men dropped out of the labour force in September 2020 - roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men.

How can this be explained?

To begin with, female workers are overrepresented in some of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy, including retail, travel, childcare, and education. This has been a global pattern, with women making up 39 percent of global employment but 54 percent of pandemic‐related job losses. At the same time, most of the essential workers are women. In the health care sector alone, three-fourths (76%) of European workers are women. Similarly, health care and community/social service sectors in the US and Australia are female-dominated.

In addition, working conditions for those who remained employed changed abruptly, with many being forced to work from home. Most children attended school online during the pandemic, which meant that millions of working parents (both men and women) had to work, parent, and sometimes homeschool their children at the same time and in the same place. Consequently, the burden of domestic work has exploded, and since women generally do more of the child care, it may adversely affect women’s careers, both in the short‐term and beyond.

Even though the current generation of college-educated women has come closer to attaining a career and a family, the pandemic has magnified gender inequality, with women having to leave their jobs due to the lack of childcare. This however can have a long-lasting impact, as research shows that women who drop out of the workforce to take care of the children often have trouble getting back in, and the longer they stay out, the harder it is to return.

But is there a solution?

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, pushing for greater gender equality will benefit not only women and men but also economic growth. What’s more, if businesses support their employees in this difficult time, the staff will value the support when they will be ready to return to work and they will not look for a job elsewhere.

Here, we present some recommendations on what business leaders can do to minimize the gender differences at work and encourage a good working culture.

  • Flexible remote working. Businesses could respond by rapidly adopting more flexible work schedules and telecommuting options, as well as come up with strategies such as reduced workweeks and job-sharing.
  • Additional paid leave could alleviate the pressure on working mums. Criteria for this pandemic leave policy can focus on women who were high performers before the pandemic and report that they need to resign due to childcare.
  • Transparency by providing reassurances on job security. Regular updates and discussions on the company’s performance and future work can help shift perspectives from worrying about job losses to being able to envision career growth as the economy transforms.
  • Checking in on mental health and wellbeing. Companies can provide soft skill training to their staff based on mental and physical wellness support.
  • Organizing training that encourages male employees to share equally household work, homeschooling, and caring so these additional responsibilities will not continue to fall disproportionately to women.
  • Educate recruiters and hiring managers on diverse candidate slates. This could be done easier by tracking data and collecting gender-based data on information regarding hiring, promotions, and job losses.
  • Consider special measures and training for employees who may be partners of frontline responders to COVID-19 (doctors, nurses, aged-care workers, etc.), enabling them to best support their families during the pandemic.
  • Returnship program for women with skills training support and a potential full-time job. This could help women rebuild their careers and at the same time, companies will find talents with the specific skillset and avoid the high costs associated with turnovers.
  • Consider how gender inequalities can be addressed and/or eliminated in planning for a post-COVID-19 future. Organize training and engage women in this planning activity.
  • Quality health insurance and sponsored memberships to childcare referral services.

How can business leaders take action?

The WorkLife HUB can offer various training options in different formats that can help reduce gender inequality in the workplace. From Webinars to online training, from workshops to one-on-one coaching, our training offer takes into account your learning needs, objectives, team sizes, and availability.

If you want to find out more about how your organisation can practice inclusive leadership at the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, listen to our Podcast Episode with Michelle King, former Director of Inclusion at Netflix.