Alfonso Caso
Managing Partner
Startup Contributor

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Working Women and CSR

By Alfonso Caso | Thu, 09/15/2022 - 12:00

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plays a vital role in development and creates a more sustainable society. Addressing gender inequality as a part of CSR, particularly by facilitating women’s empowerment, has been an objective of companies over the last 20 years. 

The analysis of this topic is of particular importance considering the impact that the pandemic has caused on women’s employment and their responsibilities to their families.  

In labor terms, around the world, women have been largely affected due to job losses caused by lockdowns. Quarantine measures forced the closure of many workplaces and millions of jobs were lost, 42 percent of which were held by women.

For many families, the gender gap got wider during the lockdown period. The burden of housework was put pon women, and although men are now more aware of household requirements, it is still common for women to hold a job, finish their workday and return home to do the chores. This was especially true during the pandemic, either because family members were or are ill or because women have always cared for children and the elderly, especially when the centers that usually cared for the elderly or those with disabilities  were closed due to COVIDd restrictions or operating only part-time.  . On top of that, since schools were closed for a long period of time, education had to be delivered  through online classes. This dramatically impacted children’s behavior and the dynamics of coexistence at home. 

A report by UN Women entitled, Government responses to Covid 19: Lessons on gender equality for a world in turmoil, published in July 2022, indicates that, because of the pandemic, jobs were lost across the board., today, there are 19.7 million fewer jobs for women, compared to 10.2 million fewer jobs for men.

The report concludes that the pandemic has had a triple effect on the already precarious situation of women in the world: family violence has reached epidemic levels; job markets for women are in crisis; and the burden of unpaid caregiving has grown, all of which has had a detrimental impact on their physical and mental health.

Based on UN recommendations, some governments took steps to reduce the gender gap between March 2020 and August 2021, according to the report, which notes that “most of these measures were adopted during the first three months of the pandemic, but their implementation was often fraught with gaps and tensions.”

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), on a global level, women have been disproportionately affected by job losses: the pandemic destroyed 4.2 percent of women’s jobs, compared to 3 percent for men. In 2021, there were still 13 million fewer women employed than in 2019, while employment among men has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

In Mexico, a concerted effort has been made to produce gender statistics resulting from COVID-19, to make timely, evidence-based decisions. INEGI pointed out that, “The impact of the pandemic on the labor market has fallen disproportionately on women: 84 percent of the 1.6 million people who left the workforce (EAP) were women; 7 out of 10 of the 2.1 million people who are no longer employed are also women.”

The director of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), Fátima Masse, believes that the reason women are not returning to work is because they are caring for others. Feelings of anxiety and burnout are growing, either because layoffs have reduced family income or because single parents are shouldering the burden alone. There is also the stress over the threats to  health and the need to keep up with increasingly time-consuming hygiene measures.

In its study, “Women after Covid,” IMCO addressed three factors: first, the services that were suspended due to lockdowns were performed more by women than men; second, women participate more in unpaid labor, such as schooling and attending to their families’ health; and third, in general, women are less involved in decision-making.

The gender pay gap is one explanation for women’s underrepresentation in the labor market. In Mexico, this gap is 13 percent; in other words, women earn only 87 pesos for every 100 pesos that a man in the same position earns. One of the main reasons for this pay gap is the persistence of traditional gender roles: women invest 2.6 times more than men in unpaid care work. Given the lack of time or options for flexible formal employment, many women seek out part-time jobs, independent work, self-employment, or entrepreneurial activities, which weigh heavily on their income.

Helping women to recover from the losses and impact of the pandemic is the backbone of the recovery for communities, and for every family that is suffering from stress.

Out of all social protection and labor market measures, only 12 percent target women’s economic security and only 7 percent support unpaid care work — tasks that also occupy a considerable amount of their time.

In 2020, the year of the strictest lockdown measures, women did 29 percent more childcare per week then men; in addition, 7 out of 10 say they think that verbal or physical abuse by a partner became more common; unfortunately, the last survey presented by INEGI last month showed that violence against women has dramatically increased.

In 2021, the UN Women organization approved a strategic plan covering four major areas as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically Gender Equality (SDG 5):

  1. governance and participation in public life;

  2. women’s economic empowerment;

  3. ending violence against women and girls; 

  4. women, peace and security, humanitarian action, and disaster risk reduction.

For modern businesses, reducing the gender gap is an element included in their CSR  strategy; not only when drafting hiring policies but also when considering the new environment of the workplace. Some related concepts are: salary, disposable time, and the possibility of having an adequate place to work in the post-pandemic era. 

Companies have several tools to guide their contributions toward this goal; for example, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

This basic tool provides a base of knowledge and can be used in training and to assist companies in assessing the current human rights situation, its main risks and impacts. It also provides information on how to identify specific risks relating to women’s rights.

Some examples of metrics that are used to measure progress against SDG5 are:

  • total number and salary of new employees and employee turnover by age group, gender, and region;

  • composition of senior management, broken down by employee category and by gender, age group, minority status and other diversity indicators;

  • Number and type of incidents of gender violence that have occurred in the workplace;

  • Percentage of employees who are evaluated regularly for their professional performance, by gender and job category.

It is also necessary to understand that due to the post-pandemic situation, women employees have an excessive workload that restricts their opportunity to continue working. Flexible work schedules or the opportunity to work remotely would favor their permanence or incorporation into the labor market.

CSR is a powerful policy instrument to promote the respect of human rights and to foster gender equality. Mexican companies with a global view need to address these facts as part of an integral approach to their policies. 

Photo by:   Alfonso Caso