Challenges women encounter in the workforce and the future of their workplace presence
Over centuries, women have been fighting for their place in the workforce. In spite of their persistent efforts, the current labor force participation rate for women is about 49%. The gap between men and women varies by 26 percentage points, with certain parts of the world facing a gap of more than 50 percentage points.
In a survey conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO), 70% of the women surveyed, said that irrespective of their current employment status they prefer to work in paid jobs. Social circumstances push women to either work part time or take up jobs in the informal sector. This results in women being disproportionately affected by economic crisis.
The impact of COVID-19 on women in the workforce
Over the past year these numbers have changed even further. The COVID-19 pandemic has shrunken the global economy by 4.4%. The effect of pandemic-related job losses have been centered on women. Estimates suggest that female job loss rate is 1.8 times higher than male job loss rate globally This is a result of pre-existing gender inequalities. According to Linkedin Opportunity Index 2021, 68% of women in the Asia-Pacific have felt the lack of job opportunities as opposed to 66% men.
To understand the pre-existing gender inequalities that have resulted in these figures, here is a list of the factors affecting female labor participation.
Factors affecting female participation in the labor market
Globally in 2020, less than half, 46.9% of all women participated in the labor force, a decrease from 51.0% in 1990. Besides the pandemic, the key reason why women face hardship in joining the workforce is due to the unpaid work performed by women.
This unpaid work includes child care, cooking, cleaning, and farming. Women across the world provide at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men. This results in women having less time to engage in paid labor or work longer hours. Over 70% women want to work in paid jobs
Unpaid care and domestic work make up 10 and 39 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is more than the contributions made by the transportation, manufacturing or commerce sectors.
Financial inclusion has also been a major struggle for women particularly in the Asia-Pacific. Even within the region, the majority of the unbanked population has been found in China, India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. 60% of women in India and China and 65% of women in Bangladesh do not have access to banking services.
Another important factor affecting women is the wage gap. Globally women make 77 cents for every US$1 that a man makes. At the current rate at which we are addressing the wage gap, it will take 70 years for men and women to receive equal pay.
The reason behind this wage gap is because female workers are concentrated in different sectors as opposed to men. Restrictive policies such as inflexible working hours and limited access to parental leave force more women to take up part-time jobs which in turn don’t pay as much full time jobs.
The wage gap also varies between women with children and without children. In South Asia the gender wage gap for women with children is 35% where as for women without children it is 14%.
Women with children have to pay a ‘motherhood penalty’. This refers to the career breaks that women have to take to raise their children. Career breaks result in reduced income, discrimination at hiring and during promotions due to perceptions of incompetence and lack of commitment.
Women at the top are few and far between
The aforementioned challenges make it so that very few women end up climbing the corporate ladder. As of August 2020, only 13 women (2.6%) were CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies. However, not all is bleak. The share of women in senior management positions is increasing exponentially across the world.
2019 saw the highest proportion of women in senior management ever reported, at 29%. Figures in 2020 remained relatively stable as well. The proportion of mid-market companies with at least one woman in senior management around the world has held steady at 87% over 2019-20. Figures have risen by almost 20 percentage points over the last five years.
These figures can be attributed to the quotas that certain countries have in place to increase women’s presence in corporate boards. These countries include France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and South Korea.
Gig economy: A potential space for women
The necessity to provide additional unpaid care makes ‘gig’ work or freelance work a possible solution to the gender gap in the labor market. Currently, only 17% of women in the Asia Pacific are a part of the freelance workforce. However, they have an hourly rate which is 87% that of men. This is significantly higher than North America where 44% of women work as freelancers and make 69% of men’s rates.
Within the freelance market, women are involved in translation, administrative work, content writing, customer support and project management. A leader in the female freelance labor market is Philipines. 62% of freelancers in the country are women.
83% of all freelancers work from home. Freelancing gives women an opportunity to work from home and support their families both socially and financially. Full-time freelancers earn about US$22 an hour and report a high lifestyle satisfaction rate.
Social protection for women in the workforce
According to a report by the International Labour Organization “ unfair treatment, which includes abuse, harassment and discrimination, is among the top three challenges facing working women, especially young women between the ages of 15 and 29”
Workplaces, where women do not have to fear harassment and violence, are essential steps towards gender equality. With the intent of making workplaces safer and more comfortable for women some countries have put in place provisions to ensure family and domestic violence leave.
One such country is Australia. In Australia, all employees (full-time workers as well as part-timers) are entitled to 5 days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year. This can provide women the time they may need to seek the proper support to deal with violence. It can also facilitate a smooth return to the workplace.
The future of women in the labor market
Workplaces are constantly evolving and adopting to technological advances. Automation brings its own fresh set of challenges for women in the labor market. The push towards adopting new technologies can cause about 40-160 million women to transition between jobs by 2030. To do so they need to move towards increasing their skill sets and educational levels.
Depending on the country, men and women tend to cluster around different jobs. In most countries, women account for 70% of the workers in the healthcare and social assistance sectors. Due to the fast pace at which the healthcare sector is growing by 2030, women may have access to 25% more job opportunities.
To gain access to these increased job opportunities women need to learn how to work alongside automated systems. Today across the world, women make up 35% of the student body enrolled in the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). These figures need to grow for more women to sustain themselves in their rapidly changing workplaces.
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