With longer work hours and a work from home set-up during the COVID-19 pandemic, women bore the maximum brunt by performing a dual role as a working professional as well as a caregiver. Over 80% of working women in India have been negatively impacted in some form or the other during COVID-19 with the work-life balance becoming worse, a report on the effects of COVID-19 on the women workforce in the formal sector in India revealed.
According to the report, ‘Women@Work’, which was launched by Aspire for Her and Sustainable Advancements today, 38.5% of working women surveyed said they were adversely affected by the burden of added housework, childcare and eldercare while 43.7% stated that work-life balance has become worse.
As part of the launch, a virtual panel discussion was hosted with eminent panellists – Ms. Madhura DasGupta Sinha (Founder & CEO of Aspire For Her), Dr. Nayan Mitra (Founder of Sustainable Advancements), Ms. Nishtha Satyam (Dy. Country Representative, UN Women) and Ms. Navya Naveli Nanda (Founder, Project Naveli and Co-Founder & CMO at Aara Health), which was moderated by Ms. Poornima Shenoy, CEO - Hummingbird Advisors.
According to the report, the most common response received from the participants was having to work longer and harder during the pandemic. Thus, leading to a worsened work-life balance. 50.4% of mid-career women (16-20 years’ work experience) cited the reason as ‘added burden of housework, childcare, and eldercare’, more than any other demographic.
Talking about the report, Ms. Madhura DasGupta Sinha, Founder & CEO of Aspire For Her said, “The pandemic has had a perceptible impact on women in various stages of their lives, across different industry sectors, occupational status, work experience, and life stages. This is not just a research report for us. The Women@Work research has been a cornerstone to our strategy to build a winning mindset in aspiring women, in the backdrop of a sharp blow to the already-declining statistics around the labour force participation rate of Indian women. The findings of the research have helped us to craft the strategy around motivating women to enter and stay in the workforce. The research helped us enhance the 5-point mindset change model including mentors and role models, learning and reskilling opportunities, career previews and opportunities and the need for a strong, peer community.”
The research was conducted during the third quarter of the financial year 2020-21 on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the women workforce in the formal sector, correlating them to four variables - industry sector, occupational status, work experience and hierarchical position. The intensive research was conducted with a sample size of 800 women across the metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Ranchi, Jaipur, Pune and Ahmedabad.
The research had the highest representation from the Corporate sector (41%), followed by Academic (21%), Self-employed (10%), Healthcare/Essential Service (9%), Government (5%), Civil Society (1%) and Others (13%).
Gender Divide among various occupational status
61.1% of women who lost their job due to COVID-19 felt women be worse off than men, followed by women who took a break (46.7%), closely followed by working women (42.3%), students at 35.6% and self-employed women at 30.3%.
Ms. Poornima Shenoy, CEO - Hummingbird Advisors commented: “As the world was reeling under the impact of the COVID-19 virus, there was another virus that was affecting social structures. Working women, across the world, were the ones who suffered the most from rising unemployment. The report reveals that there were gender-based disparities in the pandemic. These could be stemming from differential treatment of women in the workforce or a disproportionate share of household responsibilities.”
Women in Entrepreneurship
The report pointed out that while the women in employment were feeling overwhelmed, the self-employed women were the worst hit. 41.6% of self-employed women shared that they were negatively affected by COVID-19. The largest impediments to adopting a new business model have been insufficient knowledge to predict demand patterns and a lack of financial resources. Even in cases where businesses did not see an immediate decline in revenue, growth has remained mute.
Ms. Navya Naveli Nanda, Founder - Project Naveli and Co-Founder & CMO at Aara Health stated: “The pandemic was becoming a lonely journey for women entrepreneurs. There is a need to have a common platform - an online community where stories can be shared and career resources can be provided. I applaud institutions like Aspire For Her and Sustainable Advancements who are actively studying the impact of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs but, more critically, using their findings to come up with actionable solutions.”
Women in Civil Societies
Women in civil societies felt a unique set of challenges. A substantial part of their funding got diverted to healthcare. Moreover, the lockdown and subsequent social distancing rule greatly jeopardized the dynamics of the civil society organizations that thrived on physical connect. 33.3% of women in civil society organisations reported being negatively affected.
Dr Nayan Mitra, the author of the report, an expert in CSR and Founder of Sustainable Advancements added, “The report is a wake-up call for women, and men, in India. If we do what we have always done for the last 15 years, the country will lose out on a fantastic talent pool of a highly educated, diverse workforce to unleash the trillion-dollar opportunity.”
Women in Education Sector
50.6% of women working in the academic sector felt that women were worse off as compared to men during the pandemic. There was also increased teaching and service workloads where many of the teachers had to move to an online video platform to render their academic services. For most of the older generation teachers, this was the most strenuous task in their whole life. There were 21.8% of women who felt that they were negatively impacted, stating a majority (54.1%) of them had to work harder/longer, while 41.8% of them stated they had added burden of housework/childcare/eldercare.
The report says that women who are early in their careers, with work experience of 0-5 years were most adversely impacted (30.0%), closely followed by women who have 21-25 years of experience (29.2%). The reasons cited for this negative impact were increased working hours (20.3%), work-life balance becoming worse (16.7%), added burden of housework (10.6%), no increment/bonus (10.0%), financial worries (5.5%), and a pay-cut (5.2%). Women who had work experience of 0-5 years were mostly women in Entry-level/Junior Roles, who were at the nascent stages of their career and were subject to the threat of job loss and lack of alternate opportunities.
The declining percentage of women in the workforce for the last 15 years and the worsening rank in the Global Gender Gap Index is a huge cause for concern, exacerbated by the pandemic. The rich interviews and insights have helped AFH to craft a unique mindset-change proposition for women professionals and aspirants. The report has inspired AFH to redefine the community strategy and understand the importance of shared safe space - which can help women connect and communicate with each other and re-discover the power of togetherness.