What is a ‘she-cession’ and how will we recover?

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  • Covid-19 has already had a damning impact on the professional lives of women in the UK. But with female employees almost twice as likely than men to lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic, are we slipping into a full-blown she-cession? Niamh McCollum investigates...

    Could you ever have anticipated that you’d say ‘zoom’ as much as you have over the last few months? The pandemic has expanded our vocabulary beyond our wildest, weirdest imaginations, making previously alien phrases like ‘social distancing’, ‘flatten the curve’ and ‘stay alert’, well, the ‘new normal’. And now another phrase has appeared on the horizon: ‘she-cession’. 

    As we cope with rising coronavirus cases and millions living with reinstated local restrictions, new information is coming out regarding the disproportionate impact coronavirus is having on women – especially working women.

    Since the start of lockdown, the UK has shed almost 700,000 jobs. With female dominated industries such as retail and hospitality being the most affected – the female unemployment rate currently stands at 17%, compared to 13% for men.

    This is unchartered territory. Every other modern recession has hit men harder – with the 2008 recession, which saw men losing twice as many jobs as women, referred to as a ‘mancession’. But with global consulting firm McKinsey stating that jobs in sectors heavily reliant on female employees are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic fallout than sectors mainly employing men, C. Nicole Mason, president of the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, felt compelled to dub this crisis a ‘she-cession’. 

    And women are not only bearing the brunt of widespread redundancy. New research from LinkedIn reveals they’re also less likely than men to be hired into new roles, as well as being more likely to feel less confident about their career prospects – all the while picking up the slack and providing full-time childcare. 

    According to new data from the UN, the UK has yet to make any targeted effort to account for the pandemic’s economic impact on women in its response plans. Assessing the reaction of 206 countries to the biggest challenges posed to women by the pandemic (domestic violence, unpaid care work and unemployment) – only 25 had introduced measures to support women in all three categories. 

    Two weeks ago we had a brief glimmer of hope – when chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the Job Support Scheme set to replace furlough. With a second lockdown on the cards, however, the scheme’s effectiveness has been called into question – as it fails to account for the hardest-hit industries, such as hospitality. Sunak said the scheme will only support ‘viable’ jobs, meaning those that are not currently at risk of redundancy. With local and sector restrictions making a whole host of cafes, bars and restaurants inoperable – female workers (who comprise 65% of all part-time hospitality roles) will be the least protected.

    With the total unemployment figure for 2020 set to top one million, Marie Claire investigated the main economic factors impacting women, plus what employers can do to protect women in the workplace.

    Drivers of the she-cession:

    During lockdown, women were less likely to be hired

    According to research from LinkedIn, the hiring of female workers followed a U-shape trajectory in 2020, reaching its lowest point in April. This particularly affected women within the Recreation and Travel industry, where the percentage of female hires dropped from 44.3% in 2019 to just 31.1% in May of 2020.

    Although the data shows that female hiring improved with restrictions being lifted, a second lockdown is likely to stop this progress in its tracks.

    Women are less confident about future career prospects

    When it comes to future career prospects, the study found women are feeling significantly less confident about their chances in comparison to men. This was due largely to the fact that many women believe that the task of juggling childcare, along with chores and working from home has either impacted their career prospects or is bound to harm them in the future.

    With a third of working mothers providing full-time care for their children over the pandemic, compared to just 19% of men, Joeli Brearley, Founder of charity Pregnant Then Screwed, commented: ‘Lockdown saw a number of mothers taking on the lion’s share of caring duties and housework’.

    It’s hardly surprising then that nearly two thirds of women report feeling increased levels of stress or anxiety due to the pandemic, compared to less than half of men. Between facing heightened risk of redundancy to dealing with gender disparity in the current hiring climate, the data also shows that women are shockingly 133% less confident than men about their ability to improve their financial situation in the next six months.

    Speaking to The Guardian, Asa Regner, deputy executive director of UN Women said: ‘I think the care issue is sometimes considered something that happens at home after 5 o’clock and we can’t do anything about that. But that is actually not true, according to evidence. There is a lot a government can do if they really want to shift this.’

    What should be done to fight the she-cession?

    It’s clear that more needs to be done to avoid losing the progress made on gender equality within the workplace. And with this new data, LinkedIn hopes to shed a light on the need for employers to make accommodations to help women remain in employment.

    ‘Many women have had to juggle ever-increasing work commitments with heightened childcare and household responsibilities,’ says Janine Chamberlin, Director at LinkedIn. ‘The concern is that with higher levels of stress, working mothers may consider reducing their hours or leaving the workforce entirely’

    According to Chamberlin, flexible hours and remote working are key in helping women remain in the workforce. ‘Employers have the opportunity to create more flexibility so women do not have to choose between their children and their careers.’

    Regner also commented on the effectiveness of parental leave schemes: ‘It’s important to put parental leave schemes in place. It is important to put day care, elderly care schemes in place in the country. These are often pretty expensive social investments the first time you invest in them, but they do pay off’

    Hakima Abbas, a director at the Association of Women’s Rights in Development, raised the need for a feminist recovery plan. This would entail calling on decision-makers to recognise the impact of Covid-19 on women and girls in terms of economic justice, health, social justice and cultural inequality. In doing so, they could ensure a gender-sensitive crisis response as we transition to recovery.

    This isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. In fact, it’s already happening on a collection of tropical islands. In July, Maui County in Hawaii became the first place in the world to explicitly commit to prioritising women in its recovery plan. 

    The paper, which was developed by Jabola Carolus, proposes universal free childcare and long-term elder care, with fair wages for those working in that sector, relieving women of an often unpaid role. It also argues for a living wage for cleaning staff, health coverage for migrants and a nearly $25 an hour minimum wage for single mothers.

    As calls grow across the world for a gender responsive approach to the pandemic, it’s hoped that, with some pressure, we’ll see the implementation of similar policies in the UK’s recovery plan. Because, as Hakima Abbas very aptly put, ‘we can’t afford to go back to business as usual’, as well as what was – and what shouldn’t be – considered normal.

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