NEW YORK, NY, USA, 19 May 2021—Heightened workloads and household responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic are driving deep dissatisfaction among many women in the workforce, according to a new Deloitte Global report, “Women @ Work: A global outlook,” released today. The report finds that these increased responsibilities are having devastating effects on working women as 51% of those surveyed are less optimistic about their career prospects today. Additionally, women surveyed reported a 35-point drop in mental health and a 29-point drop in motivation at work compared to before the pandemic.
Representing the views of 5,000 women across 10 countries, the research reveals a stark reality for women in the workplace: gender equality has regressed during the pandemic, stifling years of slow, but steady progress. Increased responsibilities at work and at home during the pandemic, coupled with non-inclusive workplace cultures, are resulting in diminishing job satisfaction and employer loyalty for women.
“The last year has been a ‘perfect storm’ for many women facing increased workloads and greater responsibilities at home, a blurring of the boundaries between the two, and continued experiences of non-inclusive behaviours at work,” says Emma Codd, Deloitte Global Inclusion Leader. “While the adverse impact on women’s wellbeing, motivation, and engagement is obvious, our research also shows that some employers are getting it right: The women who work for these organisations are more engaged, productive, and satisfied with their careers. As we start to rebuild workplaces for the future, we have a golden opportunity to get gender equality and inclusion right and avoid setting back years of progress.”
Wellbeing decreasing: Women shouldering more responsibilities at work and at home
Since the pandemic began, 77% of women surveyed say that their workloads have increased – the most frequently-cited change in their lives brought on by the pandemic. Women are also taking on more responsibilities managing household and caregiving tasks: 59% say they’re spending more time on domestic tasks; 35% are spending more time caring for children; and 24% cite more time caring for dependents other than children.
As a result, the survey suggests that women’s wellbeing has fallen significantly since the pandemic: only one third of women consider their mental wellbeing today to be “good” or “extremely good,” compared to 68% prior to the pandemic. With their mental wellbeing on the decline, women around the world are concerned about the impact of their mental health on their career: 29% of women who said their career isn’t progressing as fast as they would like point to poor mental health as a major contributing factor.
According to the survey, women who identify as LGBT+ and/or women of color were even more likely to report lower levels of mental wellbeing and satisfaction with work/life balance, compared to all respondents.
A culture problem: Women continue to experience non-inclusive behaviours in the workplace
While many organisations tout their commitment to an inclusive workplace, many women are continuing to experience non-inclusive working environments. Over half of surveyed women say they have experienced some form of harassment or non-inclusive behaviour at work in the past year – ranging from unwanted physical contact and disparaging remarks to having their judgment questioned and being given fewer advancement opportunities on account of their gender.
LGBT+ women are almost four times more likely to say they have experienced jokes of a sexual nature and five times more likely to have experienced belittling comments about gender. One in 10 women of colour say they have experienced comments about their race in the workplace. They are also more likely to have experienced comments about their communication style than white women (15% vs. 5%).
Most women who experience these behaviours do not report them to their employer, particularly the non-inclusive behaviours they feel are less “serious.” A quarter of women cite fear of career reprisal as the top factor for not reporting these behaviours. In some cases, organisations may not even have the appropriate reporting mechanisms in place: only 31% of the women surveyed believe that their company currently has a process for reporting discrimination and harassment.
Women considering leaving: Employers not adequately supporting their workforces
As women look for support throughout the pandemic, the survey shows that employers are failing to meet the moment. Only 22% of women believe their employers have helped them establish clear boundaries between work and personal time. Most women also feel like they have to be “always on” at work, and 63% feel that their employers evaluate them based on the amount of time they spend online versus the quality of their work.
The numbers are even more stark for LGBT+ and/or women of color. Only 35% of LGBT+ women say their employer’s commitment to supporting women has been sufficient since the pandemic began, in comparison to 44% of non-LGBT+ women. Meanwhile, younger women of colour between the ages of 18-37 are more likely than the overall survey sample to feel less optimistic about their career prospects today than before the pandemic (58% vs. 51%), and they are more likely to say their careers are not progressing fast enough (54% vs. 42%).
Perhaps in large part due to this lack of support, women surveyed report a 29-point drop in job satisfaction since the pandemic began, and 57% of all women surveyed (and nearly 60% of women of colour) plan to leave their employer in two or fewer years, citing a lack of work/life balance as the number one reason. Not only are many women questioning their current career prospects, but nearly a quarter are also considering leaving the workforce altogether.
A better working environment: Meet the gender equality leaders
While the past year has undoubtedly been challenging for women, there are a group of employers who have doubled down on building inclusive cultures and supporting women’s careers. “Gender equality leaders,” representing the employers of roughly 4% of respondents, have created more inclusive and trusting cultures where women feel they are better supported.
The benefits of being a gender equality leader are clear:
There are several actions organisations can take now to address this critical issue, including prioritising work/life balance and flexible working options that extend beyond workplace policies and are entrenched in the company culture; empowering women to succeed in life outside of work to enable success at work; and offering fulfilling development opportunities that build skills and expertise.
“Our survey respondents are clear about what needs to be done to reverse the pandemic’s disproportionate effects on working women,” says Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Deputy CEO and Chief People and Purpose Officer. “As organisations look to rebuild their workplaces, those that prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion in their policies and culture and provide tangible support for the women in their workforces will be more resilient against future disruptions. Additionally, they will lay the groundwork needed to propel women and gender equity forward in the workplace.”
For more information and to view the full results of Deloitte Global's 2021 Women @ Work Report, visit: www.deloitte.com/womenatwork
Between November 2020 and March 2021, Deloitte Global conducted a survey of 5,000 women in 10 countries to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s personal and professional lives. The survey also aimed to understand the state of gender equality in the workplace from an intersectional lens and the types of actions that employers are taking to support, retain, and empower women within their organisations.