Confronting the pandemic with gender-equal business development for economic growth

The COVID-19 situation is different from previous socio-economic crises in its depth and breadth. However, as in previous crises, women and men are not feeling its consequences the same way.

News | 29 June 2021
by Viky Giulietti, ILO Senior Specialist, Employers’ Activities

The COVID-19 crisis is affecting women and men differently. The disparity depends on the sector in which they work, the fragility of their employment situation, their access to work and social protection, and their care responsibilities.

Recently released ILO reports show that women’s jobs are at a relatively greater risk than men's this time, and in a context of rapid deterioration, women are losing them faster than men. For those women who remain in employment, their increased care obligations force them to reduce paid working hours or extend total working hours (paid and unpaid) to unsustainable levels.

In this context, it is essential that macroeconomic, sectoral, labour market and entrepreneurial growth stimulus policies place gender equality at the centre of emergency, recovery and reconstruction efforts to avoid long-term damage to women's economic development prospects and rebuild for a new and better reality that is fair and just.

It is indisputable that gender equality is a fundamental human right - and it also makes for good business. Prior to the pandemic, the ILO Bureau for Employers' Activities (ACTEMP) Second Global Report on Women in Business and Management (2019) offered insights into how gender diversity at the top improves organizational performance. The Report, was conducted together with Employer and Business Membership Organizations (EMBOs) and nearly 13,000 surveyed enterprises across the globe.

More specifically, the Report indicates that when there is a 30 to 39 per cent female representation on boards of directors, companies are 18.5 per cent more likely to improve their business outcomes.

The Report finds that of those enterprises that track the quantitative impact of gender diversity initiatives around promoting women in management, nearly 74 per cent report a profit increase of between 5 and 20 per cent. Globally, the majority of enterprises (29.1 per cent) reported profit increases between 10 and 15 per cent.

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare and exacerbated the entrenched gender inequalities in labour markets. Once the pandemic hit, it became more evident just how much more precarious women’s employment is compared to men’s. For example, the impact of the lockdown in service sectors where women are overrepresented in, combined with their higher informality, immediately made their employment more at risk. As the vast majority of workers in the health and social care sector, women continued to work in trying circumstances, many times facing inordinate health risks.

In the Caribbean, the recent Women's Entrepreneurship Development Assessment: Jamaica (2021) conducted by ACTEMP/ILO within the Win-Win Programme “Gender Equality means good business”, noted significant gender gaps in the country’s business landscape. It identified women’s entrepreneurship as a survival strategy as well as taking advantage of opportunities for new business ventures emerging from the crisis and the resulting recession. The Assessment also warned that a lack of gender sensitive responses to the labour and productivity impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic would worsen the preexisting barriers and vulnerabilities faced by women-owned enterprises.

The Assessment further recommends greater coordination among Governmental agencies as well as among private sector organizations. It also speaks to the need of tailoring financial products and business development services to address the needs of women entrepreneurs and women-owned enterprises. In fact, it recommends the development of a three to five-year Action Plan aimed at improving Jamaica’s standing in the promotion of women’s entrepreneurship development and practice of gender equal business.

The crisis has deteriorated labour market inequalities between women and men, and it has made bridging the gap even more urgent. Whether at the international, regional, national or enterprise level, gender equal policies and actions are critical for governments, employers and workers to achieve a sustainable and equitable post COVID-19 future that creates win-win opportunities for all.