Report: Pandemic dealing setbacks to gender parity in jobs

GENEVA — The think tank behind the annual gathering of world leaders in Davos, Switzerland, says the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting gender parity in the workplace, but time will tell whether the damage to women’s roles in the economy proves permanent.

The World Economic Forum predicted Wednesday that gender parity — already not expected for a century — will have to wait dozens more years to come about because of the coronavirus’ impact. It said the hard-hit consumer, retail, travel and tourism industries tend to be large employers of women.

“The pandemic has already begun to show partial impact on the data, and it’s not looking like great news for gender equality in the future,” said forum managing director Saadia Zahidi in an interview. “It remains to be seen if this is actually an underestimate of where things end up.”

“It remains to be seen if some of this is permanent scarring in the labor market,” she added.

The forum says that when some care-industry workplaces closed, “housework, childcare and elder care responsibilities fell disproportionately on women.” And data shows hiring rates for women, particularly in leadership roles, were lower than for men, Zahidi said.

Meanwhile, fast-growing sectors in technology, computing and engineering have disproportionately low representation of women, the forum said.

The report, now in its 15th year, gave high marks to Nordic countries Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, while Rwanda and Namibia in Africa placed in the top ten among the “most gender equal” countries in the world.

The forum said countries can work to close their gender gaps with strategies like investing in the care sector, ensuring equal work-leave time for men and women, and setting policies that can help improve unbiased hiring and promotion practices in the workplace.