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Pandemic takes a heavy toll on working women; the majority are significantly less optimistic about their career prospects

  • Nearly six in 10 South African women (57%) feel less optimistic about their career prospects today compared to before the pandemic. This is higher than the global average (51%).
  • Lack of work-life balance is the biggest reason why women are considering leaving their employer (35%), followed by lack of benefits or low compensation (18%).
  • A small group of employers, “gender equality leaders,” have successfully supported women throughout the pandemic and built more inclusive cultures.

Johannesburg, 5 August 2021— Heightened workloads and household responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic are driving deep dissatisfaction among many women in the workforce, according to a Deloitte Global report, Women @ Work: A global outlook. The report finds that these increased responsibilities are having detrimental impact on working women as 57% of those surveyed in South Africa are less optimistic about their career prospects. Additionally, women surveyed reported that before the pandemic, 67% of women in South Africa ranked their mental wellbeing as good or extremely good, while today only 32% say that their mental health is positive at the moment.

Representing the views of 5,000 women across 10 countries, including 500 respondents from South Africa, 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.

Wellbeing decreasing: Women shouldering more responsibilities at work and at home

Since the pandemic began, 81% 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: 65% say they are spending more time on domestic tasks; 41% are spending more time caring for children, and 33% 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 32% consider their mental wellbeing to be positive, compared to 67% prior to the pandemic. With their mental wellbeing on the decline, women around the world and locally are concerned about the impact of their mental health on their career: 48% of women who find it difficult to switch off say that if they are not “always-on”, their career progression will be adversely impacted. This is slightly lower than the global average of 52%.

Gender norms and roles are still proving to be an uphill challenge with around a quarter of women saying that their partner does not want to do household management and childcare (if applicable) and twenty percent say they are less likely than their partner to return to the office when it is safe to do so, compared to 27% of the global sample.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, women are shouldering more responsibilities at home and work, therefore leaving less time to focus on other interests, which could include career aspiration goals. The survey results show that the burden on women is disproportionate and is impacting more women, which results in them feeling at a breaking point and leaving the workforce in record numbers. Furthermore, the survey also indicates that businesses that provide women with more support will have more opportunities for women to succeed by being more productive and more motivated and are therefore likely to report retention of women in the workplace, says Justine Mazzocco, People & Purpose Managing Partner at Deloitte Africa.

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 judgement questioned and being given fewer advancement opportunities on account of their gender.

  • 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 24% of South African women reported that their organisation has a non-retribution policy for employees who report discrimination and harassment, compared to 30% of the global sample.

A better working environment: Meet the gender equality leader

Deloitte found that gender equality leaders are reaping the rewards. Thirty-two employers, represented by 4% of the South African women surveyed, fall in this category. These employers have demonstrated support to women employees through increased access to flexible working arrangements compared to lagging organisations. They have also established clear boundaries around working hours and provided paid time off during the pandemic.

A quarter of gender equality leaders have reviewed or reset women’s objectives to ensure they are realistic in the current circumstances, 22% have provided unpaid time off to adjust to the new way of working, and 20% have provided home schooling resources. Nearly one-fifth of lagging organisations have taken none of these actions to support women’s mental wellbeing.

“Our survey results are clear, in planning for the future, organisations must actively work to correct the stagnation created by the pandemic. In a country where a little more than half of the population is female, fostering inclusivity with policies and entrenched cultures that support women, creates an ecosystem that fosters productivity just by valuing the contribution women make in the workplace,” concludes Mazzocco.

For more information and to view the full results of Deloitte Global's 2021 Women @ Work Report, visit: