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COVID-19 blow to gender employment parity doesn’t tell the whole story

Women are more likely than men to have lost their job due to COVID-19, but the pandemic could drive greater employment parity in the long-term, CoreData’s latest research has found.

CoreData’s weekly COVID-19 Pulse Check, which has now garnered insights from almost 3,400 Australians, found job loss is slightly more prevalent among women (19.3 per cent vs 17.3 per cent of men) but income loss more prevalent among men (40.3 per cent vs. 36.9 per cent).

On the surface, this suggests men may be more impacted than women.  However, with men reporting financial safety nets in the form of secondary employment or income from investments far more commonly than women (45.4 per cent vs. 27.8 per cent), men are more likely to be reporting loss of secondary income than women.   

Recently released ABS labour market figures support our finding that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on women when it comes to employment.  

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The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre summarises the current labour force trends as showing under-employment impacting men to a greater extent, while women are more impacted by unemployment, as our findings also suggest.

Employment impact far-reaching for working women, casuals

What the ABS data can’t tell us about, however, is the strain on working Australians during the COVID-19 crisis (note 1).  More than a quarter of working women (25.6 per cent) and one in five working men (20.2 per cent) are worried about losing their job.  This soars to almost half (45.1 per cent) among casual workers, with the gender disparity greatest among part-time workers (26.9 per cent of women vs. 18.4 per cent of men).   

The greater reliance among women on their primary income source may be contributing to the heightened fears about job security, with the consequences of job loss likely to be more keenly felt.  For casual workers, the lack of paid entitlements and notice periods is likely contributing to their job security fears. 

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The impact of unemployment on wellbeing is well-established and we see this among respondents who told us they had recently lost their job due to COVID-19.  But working Australians are facing a range of challenges, which are more prevalent among working women.   

In addition to worrying about job loss, working women reported feeling overwhelmed at almost the same rate as unemployed Australians, and were almost twice as likely as working men (20.4 per cent vs. 11.4 per cent) to have been feeling this way in recent weeks.   This feeling is even more prevalent among women in casual employment, almost a quarter of who report feeling overwhelmed.  Working women were also more likely to say that COVID-19 had negatively affected their mental health (58.3 per cent) than working men (44.4 per cent).  

Overall, a quarter of Australians told us COVID-19 had negatively impacted  their family relationships.  While financial stress is known to be a contributor to relationship breakdown, negative impact on family relationships was slightly more prevalent among working women and even more common among women working part-time, which at 29.5 per cent was higher than among those who had recently lost their job  (28.4 per cent).

Overall, full-time workers appear to be faring better, and for this reason, it is not surprising we are seeing gender disparity in the impact of COVID-19 on working Australians.  Pre-COVID, women accounted for just 37.7 per cent of the full-time workforce, but made up 68.2 per cent of the part-time workforce and 53.4 per cent of the casual workforce.  Our Pulse Check found casual workers experienced job and income loss more frequently than other working Australians, but that women working part-time in particular were reporting negative financial and health/wellbeing impacts across the board.

Australian workers may benefit from COVID-19 moving forward 

For many, working part-time or casually is a choice, made to balance the demands of raising a family.  There is no denying, however, that these arrangements may also come about due to a lack of willingness of some employers to entertain flexible working arrangements that accommodate working from home.  And this raises an interesting point.  

As vast numbers of Australians now work from home (53.2 per cent of working respondents to our Pulse Check), at least temporarily, and others have altered working hours, attitudes among employers toward flexible arrangements for working mothers may permanently change.  COVID-19 has proved to many employers there are ways to maintain communication, productivity and service.  

Twitter reportedly told most employees recently they can work from home forever if they want to, while other tech giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft appear in no rush to get employees back to the office. 

Coming from a FIFO household, the availability of video-conferencing for appointments makes joint meetings possible despite one person being more than 1500km away, freeing up precious RnR time.  As a full-time worker, being able to work outside of standard business hours is a valuable drawcard for me, and something that can be provided through flexible hours of work.  As the world continues to shrink, and technology allows more businesses to operate globally, flexible work hours are also a boon for businesses where teams are dispersed across different time zones.    

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the roll-out of remote and flexible work options to whole workforces a necessity, even where there may have been some resistance under ‘usual’ circumstances.  There will always be roles that require workers to be onsite, and during set times.  We have proof now, however, of just how many jobs can be successfully and productively done flexibly.  

Having spent the bulk of my working life as a working mother, I have a lot of experience working flexibly and remotely, as I do in my current role, but I know many women who have not had been able to secure similar working conditions.  

As we move forward, the new ways of working forced on many, could, if they become the norm actually drive greater gender parity in employment, by opening up roles to women that were previously not an option due to rigid places and times of work.  

By extension, others over-represented in the casual workforce, or in under-employment, such as people with a disability, could also benefit, along with Australian families and workers more broadly, in terms of work-life balance.

To share your COVID-19 experience, visit the CoreData COVID-19 Pulse Check here.

  1. For the purposes of this article ‘working Australians’ is defined as those in full-time, part-time or casual employment and excludes contractors under their own ABN and business owners.

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