Posted: 27 Aug. 2020 05 min. read

Gender equality in a COVID world

For every month of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia has lost one year on progress to economic gender equality. And unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we’re still 36 years away from achieving economic gender equality in Australia – an issue we should focus on when marking this year’s Equal Pay Day.

The gendered impact of COVID-19

The impacts of COVID-19 are widespread and profound here in Australia and overseas, affecting the economy, families, our working lives and women in particular. This global pandemic has rapidly unravelled the progress made towards gender equality in the past few decades, and dramatically affected the lives of women everywhere, as shown by multiple sources:

  • Women are at greater risk of exposure to illness while working in lower paid jobs.
  • Family violence increases during, and in the aftermath, of disasters. The impacts of lockdowns and increased restrictions only amplifies this.
  • Women are shouldering a bigger burden of unpaid labour in the home.
  • In the June quarter, the most significant job cuts were in female dominated sectors such as accommodation, food services, the arts, and recreation.
  • Specialist women’s health services are adversely affected by the pandemic.
Nicki Hutley of Deloitte Access Economics and her team contributed to the Financy Women’s Index and its findings. Nicki commented, “COVID-19 has only exacerbated the divide between men and women in paid and unpaid work. Even if we return to the path of improvement seen before the pandemic, we remain a full generation away from achieving equality.”

Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Index (WGEA) and the Financy Women’s Index reported the following concerning statistics as a result of the pandemic.

Women’s pay and jobs are impacted more than men’s

Women lost 162,000 jobs in accommodation and food services in the June quarter (compared to 118,000 jobs lost by men). Labour force statistics also show that 55% of people unemployed as a consequence of COVID-19 are women. For those still in paid work, 11.5% of women have reduced their hours, compared to 7.5% of men. Additionally, more women than men work in casual roles, with less than 12 months continuous employment. This unfortunately makes them ineligible for JobKeeper payments.

Women bear the burden of balancing work and caring responsibilities

43% of Australians who care for children have spent more time on caring responsibilities due to COVID-19 restrictions, with the majority spent on childcare while also balancing other activities such as housework and working from home. More women than men also reported spending more time caring for children and adults, while also shouldering the responsibility of household chores.

The devastating reality of domestic violence during a pandemic

As well as the above challenges, sadly the Australian Institute of Criminology recently reported that women’s experiences of domestic violence by a current or former cohabiting partner increased during the early stages of the pandemic. Of the 15,000 Australian women surveyed, 4.6% (1 in 20) reported experiences of physical or sexual violence, and 11.6% (1 in 10) reported experiencing emotionally abusive, harassment or controlling behaviour. Additionally, 5.8% reported experiencing coercive control, which was often experienced alongside physical or sexual violence. These experiences of violence often began or escalated during the pandemic. These numbers highlight the gendered impact of COVID – as frustrations grow (as a result of job losses and restrictions), so does the impact to the physical and psychological safety of women.

A turning point: So, what’s the data telling us?

Some of the implications of COVID-19 are clearly visible. Others, and the more concerning impacts, less so.

As organisations, we’ve already made strides in remote working, providing technology solutions to our people so they can work from anywhere effectively. But the above noted impacts on gender equality aren’t as obvious and require consistent and measured work to truly see positive change.

Gender equality needs to be at the heart of our economic recovery to challenge gender and workplace norms and begin to bridge the gap in gender equality.

Deloitte’s response

We’ve always believed that to achieve gender equality, we require a combination of deliberate and measurable actions. This will help ensure we’re providing an inclusive culture and flexible working environment for all our people – both women and men. We’re aiming to do this with a targeted focus on leadership accountability, setting targets, closing the gender pay gap, designing bold policies to remove barriers for women and building leaders’ capability to lead inclusively.

At Deloitte we’ve developed a range of key programs and initiatives to help proactively identify and remove barriers to gender equality, including:

  • An enhanced Parental Leave Policy to provide greater flexibility and choice in how our employees care for their children. The Policy is inclusive of all types of families including birth, adoptive, surrogate, foster and same-sex parents.
  • Driving a culture of flexible working (through 9 types of flex work) that enables our people to manage their whole life is a priority.
  • Continued demonstration of our commitment to making Deloitte a fair, respectful and equitable place to work through our public commitments and contributions to initiatives such as of Male Champions of Change, Chief Executive Women and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).
  • A continued focus on supporting those impacted by domestic and family abuse through a refreshed policy providing access to paid leave, financial assistance and unlimited employee assistance support for individuals and their families, experiencing domestic and family abuse, and the deliberate decision to leave our offices open to ensure anyone who needed to access the office as a safe place could do so.

These focus areas enable us to remain committed to bridging the gender equality gap and creating a level playing field and inclusive culture for all our people – at a time when these are at threat of being corroded.

Now, more than ever, we need a deliberate and prolonged focus on gender equality to ensure the safe and equitable treatment of all people.


Financy Women’s Index:

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) – Gendered Impact of COVID:

Gender, Disaster and Resilience: Towards a gender-equal recovery

Meet our author

Margaret Dreyer

Margaret Dreyer

Partner, Audit & Assurance

Margaret is a senior Audit and Assurance partner. She is a former member of the Deloitte Australia board and is the Lead Inclusion, Diversity and Wellbeing Partner nationally. Margaret champions a number of national programs, most notably "All In". Through her leadership Deloitte has achieved the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency’s ‘Employer of Choice for Women’ award for over twelve years. Margaret’s extensive portfolio incorporates some of the world’s largest multinational organisations.