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Gender equality under pressure because of corona crisis

Equal opportunities at stake

The outbreak of the corona crisis has preoccupied us for several months now and it has seriously impacted society and our way of life. Not only in the areas of health and finance, which many companies are currently dealing with, but also in terms of gender equality. ‘We see that in times of crisis people tend to fall back into more traditional roles, with women being responsible for looking after the children and men bringing home the bacon. Since we have seen an improvement in the division of roles in these areas in the past few years, the relapse means turning back the clock,’ says Emma Lok, director of strategy and communication of WOMEN Inc., an organisation that promotes equal opportunities for women and inclusive employment practices. In other words: the Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 10, which both advocate equality, are at stake because of the crisis.

Emma Lok

Inequality at home and in the workplace on the rise

Practically overnight thousands of Dutch citizens had to start working from home. Children were also sent home to be taught by their parents or via digital classes. ‘That part of children’s education that was delegated to the home front was a considerable care task on top of all the others. Research shows that during the lockdown men took on more care responsibilities than previously, but because the total number of care tasks increased, at the end of the day women still did most of the work. With over-fatigue, symptoms of burn-out and so on as a result,’ according to Lok. Lok explains that with people stuck indoors for so long domestic violence has increased. ‘And unfortunately women are still more likely to be the victims than men.’

‘What we have also noticed is that women in the workplace are more often exposed to the virus. Women are more likely to have vital occupations, such as hospital nurses, care workers for the elderly or home care providers. The figures also show that more women than men have caught COVID-19 in the workplace.’ Lok also says that many of the vital occupations are typically low paid and high pressure. ‘During this crisis, even more was asked of people who already have hard and poorly paid jobs. And that again facilitates inequality.

Women are also adversely affected financially because they more often have flexible contracts and work in the informal economy, for example cleaning. Lok says: ‘They have to give up hours or their flexible contracts are not renewed. Moreover, jobs in the informal economy are often not covered by government schemes.’

Inclusieve werkcultuur

No inclusive way to test and manage

‘What we are looking for,’ says Lok, ‘is an inclusive work environment. This will result in ideas and policy enriched with various perspectives. If we take the composition of the Outbreak Management Team, for example, we see anything but an inclusive make-up.’ It concerns women in this case, but also people of colour have no decision-making positions. ‘This a huge shortcoming, particularly where it concerns social issues. Having only representatives with similar perspectives at the helm should be a thing of the past.’

‘And if you look further, you will notice that the medication for combating the coronavirus and the initial tests for the vaccine are primarily focused on men. While we know that women can react very differently to medication. Is extremely important that – if such a vaccine is developed – it is properly tested on different kinds of women.’ Here, too, inclusivity is being ignored.

Inclusivity in the long term

The coronavirus has again opened our eyes to the importance of an inclusive work culture. ‘It is important that employers invest now in the long term so that both women and men can feel at home in the workplace and that no one should find themselves in a vulnerable position,’ argues Lok.

One of the steps that companies could take is to promote flexibility, says Lok. ‘During the crisis we learned that this can offer much to both men and women. Give people a real opportunity to combine their paid and unpaid work. The extended paternity leave scheme presents an excellent opportunity for this. Partners of mothers who have given birth are entitled to a total of six weeks of leave. Ensure as an employer that they actually take this leave by setting a good example, communicating this within your organisation and continuing full salary payments during this period. This is how we can break out of that tenacious traditional division of roles.

Furthermore, there should be more invested in an open and safe culture. ‘A culture in which everyone can be themselves and where ideas and problems can be discussed openly and honestly. It is exactly different perspectives that improve the quality of projects at the end of the day. We have had the evidence for this for a long time now,’ concludes Lok.

Contact us

Renate de Lange-Snijders

Renate de Lange-Snijders

Partner, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)62 248 81 40

Wineke Haagsma

Wineke Haagsma

Head of Corporate Sustainability, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)65 170 13 44

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