Women’s employment will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels before 2022: Global report

This is despite the fact that reopening has resulted in more women’s employment than men’s


Things have started to look up on the economic front, globally, with ‘return to office’ strategies being drawn up and reopening happening across the world. Both women and men are getting back to the workforce, which is a positive sign. However, there is a gap there, and as usual, women seem to be lagging. But first, let us look at what is encouraging in the Credit Suisse report, ‘Women and work after COVID-19’.

Good news

Women’s employment has recovered with more strength in 2021 than male employment. International Labour Organisation (ILO) forecasts for 2021 show that women’s employment, globally, is expected to rise by 3.3 per cent, or 41 million, from 2020 levels, whereas men’s employment is expected to grow by 3 per cent.

With the developed economies reopening and encouraging return to work, the labour market is on the path to recovery, and women’s employment and participation is showing stronger recovery than men’s.

In the US, Canada and Japan, women’s employment has recovered more than men’s employment since the second half of 2020. In the second quarter of 2021, women’s employment in the US rose by 7.5 per cent year-over-year (YoY), while men’s employment rose by 6 per cent YoY.

For Europe, employment by gender data is available only until the first quarter of 2021, when restrictions were back in place. Therefore, to find out how women’s employment recovered after easing of restrictions, the Credit Suisse report looks at the employment recovery for Eurozone countries in the second half of 2020. Data reveals that overall, in the Eurozone, the employment recovery was stronger for women than men, including France and Italy, in line with other G7 countries.

For the UK, the report takes into account the recovery in women employees on furlough. Women’s employment was hardly impacted during the pandemic, as most were cushioned by the furlough scheme. The number of women on furloughed employment decreased more rapidly than the number of men on furloughed employment as recovery began. That means, women’s employment was showing stronger recovery than men’s. In July 2020, about 1,84,100 more women were furloughed than men in the UK. By June 2021, about 87,200 more men (9,64,800) were furloughed than women (8,77,600).

Bad news

While going by first indications it can be said that the economic reopening has resulted in more women’s employment than men’s, women’s employment still remains way below pre-pandemic levels than that of men. After all, women lost more jobs in 2020 than men to begin with. Therefore, the bitter truth is that although employment growth rate is more for women than for men, women’s employment level is “still further below pre-pandemic levels” worldwide. However, the US and the UK are exceptions. In the US, both men’s and women’s employment are around five per cent below pre-pandemic levels. In the UK, men’s employment is much further below pre-pandemic levels than women’s employment.

In Germany, there was hardly any change in women’s employment in 2020, but dipped drastically in the first quarter of 2021 when restrictions were put back in place in Europe. Women’s employment

in Eurozone countries in the first quarter of 2021 was way below pre-pandemic levels than men’s employment.

According to ILO, despite the projected employment growth in 2021 for women likely to be more than that of men, it will not be enough to bring women’s employment back to pre-pandemic

levels. Globally, women’s employment is not expected to get back to pre-COVID-19 levels before

2022 at the earliest. Male employment, however, is projected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels by the end of 2021. As per ILO, in 2021, the number of employed women, worldwide, is projected to be 13 million less than in 2019, while the number of men in employment is projected to remain more or less the same as in 2019. This would imply that 43.2 per cent of the world’s women of working age will be employed in 2021, compared to 68.6 per cent of the working-age men.

It is high time mechanisms were put in place to ensure women re-join the workforce at the earliest, so that future opportunities are not lost.

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