Don’t Let the Pandemic Become a Gender Disaster

When organisations make large cost cutting initiatives traditionally the number of women being reduced is significantly higher than the number of men. The Australian Bureau of Statistics identified that women in Victoria lost jobs at four times the rate of men in July. If this proportion of job loss continues to skew against women we will face a gender disaster.

We’ve got job losses at nearly five times the rate of men, and those women are not going to be able to return to work easily.

Tanja Kovac, GenVic

McKinsey have calculated that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s jobs. Women make up 39% of global employment but equate to 54% of overall job losses.

One of the main reasons is that the virus has placed a significant increase in the burden of unpaid care which is largely carried out by women.

The global impact of this bias is significant – if no action is taken to counter the effects global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if the unemployment tracked equally with men.

Conversely taking action to advance gender equality could potentially add $13 trillion to global GDP. (Source: McKinsey)

Source: McKinsey COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects

So Why Are Women Over Represented in Job Losses?

One reason is women are disproportionately represented in industries most expected to decline due to the impacts of COVID. Women make up 70% of all health and social-services staff globally. Hospitality, Retail and Education have all been significantly impacted and these industries also represent higher percentage of women employees.

“The coronavirus smashes up the bargain that so many dual-earner couples have made in the developed world: We can both work, because someone else is looking after our children. Instead, couples will have to decide which one of them takes the hit.”

Helen Lewis – The Atlantic “The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism”

When organisations face reductions most often the decisions on where to make cuts falls to line management. The leader considers current resourcing levels, available skills debates the internal supply and demand. The easiest people to lose are often those already taking paternity leave, or working part time – they are out of the business with someone else doing part or all of the job, and sadly out of mind is out of sight.

The impact of the pandemic has seen a further impact on women as the primary carer, with many needing to provide home schooling due to the closure of child care and schools. Women faced with long periods of trying to work and manage child care become more willing to take advantage of redundancy payments to deal with the immediate here and now problems.

Aged care compounds the problem. With the disasters in Australia’s aged care leading to families pulling their elderly relatives out of care due to the high level of infections and the significantly higher health impacts of Corona on the elderly.

According to the British government’s figures, 40% of employed women work part-time, compared with only 13% of men. In heterosexual relationships, the women are more likely to be the lower earners, which in turn means their jobs are considered a lower priority when disruptions come along. And this particular disruption could last months, rather than weeks. Some women’s lifetime earnings will never recover. 

Bloomberg publishes a Global Gender Equality Index that aims to track the performance of public companies committed to transparency in gender data reporting. (covers 50 industries, 42 countries and currently 325 companies).

But statistically there is a long way to go and this coming from the companies that are willingly sharing their data (you might guess these companies to be best in class). Across companies surveyed the index found

  • 44% of promotions in 2018 were earned by women
  • 33% have programs for women returning to work after a career break
  • 48% have a supplier diversity program to include women owned businesses
Source: Bloomberg Gender Equality Index 2020


Leaders have an opportunity to make sure that as they face into job reductions that they challenge the historical norms and ensure that the percentage of men versus women leaving roles is no greater than balanced.

The pandemic is hitting families hard around the world, it has once again drawn attention to the importance and availability of affordable childcare. Women are most commonly the primary care giver in families and as such bear a greater workload when there is no childcare available and home schooling is required, companies and their leadership need to take this more broadly into account in workforce and talent planning.

This article was informed by a number of articles including:

An article from The Age
Calls for female-focused budget as women face financial 'gender disaster'
by Wendy Tuohy
Published: 16th August 2020 

An article from The Atlantic
The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism - Pandemics affect men and women differently.
by Helen Lewis
Published: 19th March 2020

An article from McKinsey
COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects
By Anu MadgavkarOlivia WhiteMekala KrishnanDeepa Mahajan, and Xavier Azcue
Published: 15th July 2020

An article United Nations Women
The pandemic’s gender imperative
Published: 15th May 2020

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