A 'she-cession': How COVID-19 has increased gender inequality in the workplace

Posted in: Covid19, Equality, Gender equality, Students

BSc Business Students Ariadne Kafantaris and Holly Oscroft explore how and why the pandemic has had a disproportionately negative effect on women. This blog was written as part of an assignment in the module People and Organisations 2 convened by Jelena Lagger.

We’ve all heard about the ‘man-cession’ of 2008-2009, but why are people now referring to the Covid-19 recession as the ‘she-cession’? What has caused women to be disproportionately impacted? And has the pandemic reversed our progression for gender equality in the workplace?

Gender inequality can be defined as “a legal, cultural, or social situation where gender determines disparate opportunities and rights for women and men, characterized by unequal access to or benefit of rights and assumptions of stereotypical culturally and socially defined roles”. Gender inequality in organisations is deeply ingrained in "organisational structures, processes and practices".

This form of inequality has been painfully visible since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Countries across the world seemed to have more gender equality than ever before, but covid highlighted the painful reality that the progress made for women was superficial. As soon as the pandemic hit, gender equality in the workplace started to decrease. According to Mckinsey, women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s.

So, what exactly is a 'she-cession'? It is a term used to describe how unemployment rates are higher for women compared to men. We are all aware of the devastating health impacts of Covid-19, but many people have not recognised the negative economic and social impacts and how women have experienced greater effects than men. PwC’s report on the impact of Covid-19 on women in work, states that 15.3 million jobs were furloughed in the UK between July and October, according to the UK data from Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). Though women make up less than 50% of the workforce, shockingly, 52% of the 15.3 million were women’s jobs.

Why are women suffering disproportionately?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women spend 2 to 10 times more time on unpaid care work than men, so with the increased caring responsibilities caused by the pandemic, women have borne the brunt of coronavirus job losses.

On top of this, the pandemic impacted certain sectors – for example hospitality - more than others. PwC’s Women in Work Index, which looks at gender equality across 33 countries, found that "40% of women are employed in the ‘hard-hit’ sectors compared to 37% of employed men". Inevitably, with Covid-19 forcing these sectors to shut down, women have been disproportionately affected.

The concerning impact of the pandemic

So, what exactly are the implications of this?

An unprecedented number of women entered into unemployment when the pandemic began, for reasons ranging from having to prioritise unpaid work, to being made redundant. According to this global study, between the years 2020-2021, 26% of women reported loss of employment, with only 20.4% of men reporting unemployment. This statistic really does make you question whether gender equality has improved, as when crisis hits, the level of compromise between genders in terms of work is not equal.

It was also "reported that girls were more likely than boys to drop out of school during the pandemic, as well as report gender-related violence."

These findings will have profound consequences for the future generation of working women if no action is found.

Although we have highlighted some rather painful facts about how Covid-19 has severely affected working women all around the globe, it should be acknowledged that this 'she-cession' is not a fixed state. Research tells us that there are three ways in which the Covid-19 gender crisis can be turned around.

Kathleen Begel et al. have highlighted these key factors as follows:

Firstly, we need to "invest in connecting women to digital technology to sell, save and secure finance". Secondly, "the support for development of skills and information for different size enterprises to grow" (particularly in digital platforms). Lastly, "financial products and services should be designed to respond to the unique needs" of working women and women entrepreneurs.

Our findings

There is limited research on the indirect impacts of the pandemic, so we decided to conduct our own survey to gauge an understanding of what our cohort’s beliefs were.

The results were quite surprising - 50% of people believed gender equality had increased in the workplace since Covid-19 with only 13% saying it decreased. Interestingly, this 13% of people were all women, raising the question about whether men are even aware of how the health crisis has exacerbated gender inequalities.

We must point out however, that while women's higher rate of unemployment has been impacted by the pandemic, it is not the sole cause of it. Rather, it has worsened during the pandemic due to society's pre-existing gender inequalities. For example, "some of the most harmful gender inequalities are enacted within human resources (HRs) practices". HR practices form the 'backbone' of companies, so if gender discrimination occurs here, it essentially creates a ripple effect where all other elements of an organisation will be impacted.

Personal reflections

Last year, when working at a cafe, I was part of organising an event for the investors of the company. There are deep-rooted gender inequalities, particularly in the financial sector, which were painfully highlighted when working at this event. The room was entirely dominated by men, with not one woman present. As young women, about to embark on our professional career, we feel it is essential to highlight this ongoing problem and raise awareness for the future generation of the female workforce.


Posted in: Covid19, Equality, Gender equality, Students


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response