Progress towards gender equality is crucial for ensuring equal rights and opportunities, but change has slowed or stalled because of Covid-19. The crisis which has emerged as a consequence of the pandemic is indeed not gender neutral: women and girls have been disproportionately affected by its socioeconomic fallout. Public and private institutions must pay greater attention to this issue and step up their efforts in this area, as it was highlighted during the event “Gender equality: challenges ahead. From She-cession to She-recovery”.
The event took place at Bocconi University on 7th March – just one day before International Women’s Day – and was organised by the AXA Research Lab on Gender Equality. Academic researchers were joined by government and EU Parliament representatives and business leaders to explore and discuss together the research findings of the AXA Research Fund and Bocconi University’s lab on gender equality, which focused especially on the impact of Covid-19.
As many other events in current times, this event too was held both in person and virtually. Thanks to the online live stream, I was able to attend it and share with my peers what aspects need addressing right now to reduce inequalities and close the gender gap.
Research conducted at the AXA Research Lab on Gender Equality and by other academics attending the conference shows that Covid-19 has affected women more than men. Unlike most economic crises, the pandemic crisis has seen female-dominated sectors hit more strongly. Women have also been suffering from lower employment rates, loss of economic independence, education disruptions and increased care and domestic responsibilities. Because of all these aspects, academics have started calling this crisis a “she-cession”.
However, the pandemic crisis has not only impacted women more, but also aggravated all the pre-existing gender gaps. Employment rates and earnings were already low for women. Despite the introduction of income support measures, retention schemes and unemployment benefits in many countries, the female employment rate remains generally unsatisfactory. For example, even before the outbreak of the pandemic only 49% of women living in Italy had a job.
At the same time, women are the main providers of informal care. This is the effect of gender norms as well as of inadequate levels of formal care provision. Overall, an unequal sharing of care can hinder women’s job prospects and represents one of the main reasons behind gender gaps in the labour market. During the pandemic family and domestic work responsibilities have increased because of school closures, home online learning and work from home. It is true that with the new organisation of work which was brought about by the Covid-19 situation, men have become more exposed to and involved in care duties – but so have women. This means that not only the care gap remains, but gender gaps are potentially exacerbated.
Research findings highlight that the negative effect of Covid-19 on women is also a policy issue. Pandemic-related policies, although gender neutral in principle, have turned out not to be so. For example, school closures have been implemented for longer periods in countries with lower female participation in the labour market.
Gender equality represents such an important issue for the global society that the United Nations included it in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as goal number 5. However, as pointed out during the event and in The gender snapshot 2021 report by UN Women, the world is unfortunately not on track to ensure the achievement of gender equality by 2030. Two areas have been identified as very critical for women’s empowerment: time spent on unpaid care and domestic work and full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
If efforts to achieve gender equality were strongly necessary before Covid-19, now they are even more so because of the impact of the pandemic. Gender equality is key for building a peaceful, thriving community and ensuring economic and social progress through mixed innovation. It certainly entails an equity principle, but it also helps growth and efficiency. It also corresponds to values that are increasingly shared by our leaders and the talents that we all try to attract.
Policy recommendations for a more equal society include various aspects. On an educational level, we should encourage the presence of women in STEM subjects and activities aimed at skill development and upgrading. This can be done by opening the STEM culture and values which are still very male-oriented. When it comes to unpaid care and domestic work, policymakers should keep schools open and prevent closures which would negatively affect women with children. At the same time, we should all advocate for flexible work opportunities among both men and women.
The commitment to end gender inequality must come from all institutions – public and private alike. The consequences of the pandemic have made it clear that we need to act now to move towards a so-called “She-recovery” and even beyond. Practical efforts, however, should go together with a change of habits and mindsets that relies on everyone.
At RGI we want to transform not only the insurance market with our digital solutions, but also the IT insurance industry in terms of inclusion and diversity. RGI Group offers an inclusive, welcoming environment and ensures that all RGI People have equal career opportunities and a good work-life balance. According to Valore D, our Inclusion Impact Index is 73.7%, which is highly above both the national and the IT & financial market averages. RGI Women represent over 31% of our workforce and 21% of our leadership. These are good results, but we consider them the starting point to improve ourselves even more in the future.