Women Are More Likely To Lose Their Jobs During This Pandemic And Will Probably Not Get Rehired Due To Gender Biases. It’s Going To Be Tough For Us
As the country goes into unlock mode amidst rising infections and a possible second wave of COVID-19 cases in other countries, it is okay to wonder when your beauty parlour will reopen or not. But while that concern stems from your personal need for grooming, consider sparing a thought about the professionals who worked in those salons, who have been rendered income-less for quite some time now. The coronavirus pandemic has hit the service, travel and hospitality industry the worst, and if the patterns are any indication, female professionals are worst hit than men.
Globally, the workforce gender ratio is skewered by about 20%, which means there are more men in the labour force than women. But we knew that. However, there are still some sectors, especially under the service and hospitality sectors, that do have a higher percentage of women than men. In India, though, that’s not the case. Almost all sectors are male dominated, considering only 21.8% of the workforce is female. A lot of factors contribute to this—lack of appropriate skills, education, wage gap, safety, maternal leave availability and of course women’s caregiving responsibilities taking up more of their time and commitment.
And yet, this already minuscule percentage could further be slashed, thanks to the pandemic not only putting the load of household and caregiving responsibilities on women but affecting sectors and industries that employ a majority of them—salon and grooming services, malls and stores, education, private caregiving, housework, small scale and cottage industries (griha udyog), travel, media, advertising, hospitality, leisure and so on. Even in the corporate sectors, where women hold secretarial or clerical jobs or work in human resources have been affected since so many companies are working from home and trying to reduce their workforce to those who are essential to output.
The easing of lockdown has caused relief for several of these sectors, especially the small-scale industries restarting, and low-risk areas being allowed to open more services. However, with the rigid gender roles in our country, which have always put women’s careers second to their housework and child rearing responsibilities, continue to be women’s biggest impediment in recovery.
Take for example, a mother who freelances in her spare time. Pre-pandemic, it would’ve been easier for her to find projects. However, thanks to COVID-19 related lay-offs, the industry is full of jobless professionals now opting to freelance as they wait for the industry to reinvigorate. This means the competition for assignments is now much higher. Since this woman is a wife and a mother, she will have time constraints and sudden responsibilities that might disrupt her schedule, perhaps even delay her assignment completion. She is therefore likely to lose out on opportunities or even take up less work than usual.
Alternatively, a female professional working from home might also be afraid to seek special work arrangements from her workplace to accommodate her caregiving role. Because she might be afraid that it would make her appear less resilient or hardworking than her male colleagues. She is then more likely to either reach a burnout stage too soon or lose her job if she cannot keep up with her workload. Most workplaces that allow their employees to choose furloughing (going on an unpaid leave) would have seen more female staffers opting for it because they find it hard to juggle home and work effectively without paid help.
Finally, there’s also this narrow (and wrong) outlook that few women in the service sectors, even if earning, are sole breadwinners. In instances where the women are known to be secondary or tertiary earners, it is more likely to get them laid off or furloughed because they can depend on the men in their family to run the household.
Did you know that according to the World Bank data, women’s labor force participation rate in India fell from 30.4% in 1990 to 23.4% in 2019?
It is anyway quite hard for women to kickstart their careers in this country. Despite education and vocational training being made more widely available to women, and despite the schemes that grant women easy loans and ensure they get more opportunities to build their careers, this decline in participation levels feels like a major setback.
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The current pandemic situation could have a more longstanding impact on women’s career trajectory than men’s. Many women who left their jobs or were furloughed or laid off might probably not get a chance to work again. Some might be inclined to not work again. And others might completely change their professional path and give their ambitions an overhaul to make space for their household responsibilities. Let’s also not forget the migrant exodus that sent many women also back to their villages, from whence they might find it difficult to return to the city or find a job as good once they do return.
When the great recession of 2008 struck, men’s jobs were more affected than women’s because the industrial and banking sectors were more impacted. However, this recession impacts the more formal work sectors, which is where majority of women are employed. And if you think it might get better once everything opens up, that might be too rosy a picture. Once everything resumes full-fledgedly, men will more likely be rehired than woman, once again because they’re considered likely to be more devoted to their work, take lesser holidays, not avail ‘maternal leaves’, and of course not have caregiving responsibilities to distract them. Employers will need a workforce that can put in double the effort and make up for all lost revenue of 2020. And we all know men are considered more bankable than women, whether it is hard labour industries like construction or softer ones like corporates or Bollywood. Or so they will have you believe.
Whichever way you look at it, the pandemic has not been kind to women. Perhaps an overhaul of gender roles is needed to give women a fighting chance to rebuild their careers. And if such a catastrophe were to strike again, we’d be better equipped to handle our personal and professional lives than just falling back on pre-assigned gender roles for familiarity in uncertain times.
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Sharp-tongued feminist. Proud nerd. Opinions with on-point pop-culture references about films, books, your toxic BF, the patriarchy, and the Oxford comma.