Home Perspective The pandemic undid the global strides made towards gender equality  

The pandemic undid the global strides made towards gender equality  

by Emmanuel Ogundele
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Joanna Baidu, Youth Lead, PMI

Over the past decades, the movement to dismantle organised bias against women in workplaces, politics, academia, fast-tracking of economic opportunities and access to healthcare has been gaining ground. While society remains unequal, these gains were unequivocally meritorious and resulted from the tenacity of women driving it. However, in just over two years, Covid-19 undid the gains and exposed existing social inequalities.  

If not addressed, discrimination against women and girls will stay on as a side effect of the pandemic. The gender-skewed labour shortages in the workplace need to be ironed out on priority to create an even playing field for women who are in and will be entering the job market. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” is timely and rooted in human and not just women’s rights. 

Project Management Institute (PMI) identified several megatrends such as civil, civic and equality movements, demographics shifts etc in their 2022 Global Megatrends report. The report paints as an ongoing concern the rising inequality intensified by the pandemic as a contributor to social unrest. 

According to the Wits University School of Economics and Finance, while women accounted for less than half (47%) of those employed in February 2021, they accounted for two million, or two-thirds (67%), of the three million net job losses recorded between February and April of the same year. 

Although women suffered 67% of job losses, men received two-thirds of Covid-19 grants (65%). As the economy started opening again in September 2021 women’s employment levels were still down 20%, while men were down 13%. The fact that, Covid-19 forced more women than men out of work speaks to both the real and perceived value of women in the workplace.

The reality remains that women have had to find a balance under extreme conditions that the pandemic has presented or needed to drop out of the workforce to focus on their caregiver duties which further diluted their contributions in the workplace or presents challenges they’ll face in re-entering the job market. 

Despite studies showing the importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for business growth, women and ethnic minorities remain underrepresented and underpaid at all corporate levels. 

As such from a project management perspective, it has never been more important to get women back to work as well as more women into work. As the Covid-19 pandemic subsides and companies once again actively seek employees, many women are, however, having trouble resuming or starting new careers.

With 25 million new project professionals needed by 2030, according to PMI’s 2021 Talent Gap report, current labour shortages will only intensify the challenges of delivering projects that are on time, on a budget that meets customer expectations. Available statistics from PMI show that women only constitute an estimated 20% – 30% of the project management staff worldwide. For women to directly benefit, diversity must be at the heart of sustainability and a preamble to driving solutions and opportunities for women in the project management space.  

Overall, the trends we have been witnessing and monitoring combine to present the sector opportunities to build a better, more inclusive, and efficient working environment. 

Despite current setbacks, in the longer term, we expect the trend of female participation in the workforce to increase. Equality of access from a gender perspective can hopefully be understood on a more level playing field, one that acknowledges and correctly values and rewards the full contribution of women to economies, beyond the workplace. We also need to recognise the imperative to include more women in leadership so that we can guide more gender-diverse and accommodating cultures. 

We believe a lot of the changes that have taken place recently, and observed in the 2022 Global Megatrends report, can be used to achieve greater gender equality. 

Remote work, for example, provides flexibility and should over time see more women enter the workforce and stay. Remote work has also been a great leveler for people subject to bias in the workplace. Many women of colour are reluctant to return to the office, according to a recent New York Times article. In the United States, remote work has also eased the stress of working in predominantly white workspaces and reduced exposure to microaggressions and discrimination. 

As far as gender equality goes for a sustainable tomorrow, it will require buy-in from everyone including men. 

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