OECD Forum Virtual Event: Women at the Frontline of the Recovery

Some fear the COVD-19 pandemic may mean many women leaving the labour market forever. On 31 March 2022, we debated how our economies and societies should recognise—and reward—the paid and unpaid work largely provided by women. Banner image: Shutterstock/JDzacovsky
OECD Forum Virtual Event: Women at the Frontline of the Recovery
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The OECD Forum Virtual Event Women at the Frontline of the Recovery took place on 31 March 2022. This event has ended and registration is now closed—but don't worry, you can still ► watch the replay!

Moderator

  • Willemien Bax, Head, OECD Forum, OECD

Scene setting

  • Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, Deputy Secretary-General, OECD

Opening remarks

  • Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality

Speakers

  • Rae Cooper, Professor of Gender, Work & Employment Relations, University of Sydney, Australia
  • Baroness Mary Goudie, Member of House of Lords, United Kingdom 
  • Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary, ETUC
  • Magda Robalo, Global Managing Director, Women in Global Health; former high commissioner for COVID-19 & former Minister of Health, Guinea-Bissau



Some fear that the impact of the COVD-19 pandemic may be putting back the clock to the 1950s, with many women potentially leaving the labour market forever. Women are suffering from the “Great Exhaustion” after two years of the pandemic, with the impact of COVID-19 posing a great risk to gender equality and to our economic recovery should women not re-enter the workforce or remain in low-pay, low-skilled jobs to manage work and care.

This is a key moment to harness our collective awakening to the fact that our economies and societies depend on the paid but also unpaid work in healthcare, childcare, education, long-term care and home care provided by so-called “frontline” workers who have put their own lives at significant risk during the pandemic. These frontline workers have been disproportionally the young, low educated, foreign-born and from racial/ethnic minorities employed in low-paid jobs whose quality matches neither the importance of the work, nor the risks involved.

In many places the nightly applause and words of appreciation have not led to concrete improvements addressing the mismatch between the value of this work, the recognition of the skills required and the appropriate compensation. The combination of technical and relational skills remain unrecognised and undervalued. More appreciation for these skills is critically important to address the social and material devaluation of careers in care and in teaching. But visibility and recognition do not automatically lead to policy change, and much more is needed.

In OECD countries women make up the majority of the overall health and social workforce, around 75% of people working in health and social care are women i.e. 20 million women compared with 6.3 million men. Women hold about 90% of jobs in the long-term care sector, often in the lower-paid jobs and with poor working conditions, at high risk of getting COVID-19, and under considerable stress due to increased levels of absence during the pandemic.

Elizabeth Adams, President of European Federation of Nurses, has pointed out that more than 50% of healthcare professionals are nurses, the vast majority of whom are women—but few leadership positions in healthcare are held by women. Many struggle for recognition, even those with specialist postgraduate qualifications. While the share of women doctors has increased steadily over the past decades across OECD countries—from about 30% of all doctors in 1990, to about 40% by 2000 and up to 47% in 2015—women doctors tend to earn less because they are under-represented in the most highly paid specialisations such as surgery.

Visit the Forum Network Women at the Frontline of the Recovery event space to ask a question, share links and join the conversation!

Visit the Forum Network Women at the Frontline of the Recovery event space to ask a question, share links and join the conversation!

The same is true in education. On average across OECD countries, 70% of teachers are women, all levels of education combined. The highest proportions of female teachers are concentrated in the earlier years of schooling, and the share shrinks at each upper level of education. While women represent 97% of the teaching staff at pre-primary level and 83% at primary level, they make up 60% at upper secondary and only 44% at tertiary level on average across OECD countries.

In most OECD countries, teachers’ salaries are lower relative to the earnings of workers with tertiary education or to the salaries of similarly educated workers. Financially, female head teachers earn, on average, 13% less than their male counterparts.

Unfortunately, jobs in female-dominated fields tend to be undervalued, both in terms of social and financial recognition. Jo Ann Miller and Marilyn Chamberlin found in a paper called Women are Teachers, Men are Professors, that students consistently underestimated the educational credentials and academic rank of women and minority professors.

Kate Blanchett, the Australian actress, famously said during the pandemic that the experience of teaching her children at home only emphasised her respect for teachers, adding: “I tell you, in Finland, which has the highest and most respected level of education anywhere, teachers are paid the same as doctors and lawyers”.

Discussions regarding women’s participation in the workforce must also take into account the economic value of unpaid labour and care work performed by women. The value of time spent on unpaid work on basis of the replacement cost approach is estimated to be around 15% of GDP, and increases to 27% of GDP when the opportunity costs of workers in unpaid work at home are accounted for

The OECD finds that if informal carers have a job, it is also more likely that it is part time. It is deeply distressing and worrying that, in most OECD countries, caregiving is associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing poverty. Carers took a further hit during COVID-19: about 20% of carers have postponed regular payments such as rent, mortgage and loan payments and/or utility bills in OECD countries.

Drawing on the OECD Forum 2021 virtual event Building a gender-inclusive recovery, we took advantage of this conversation to address what now needs to happen to make sure that women at the frontline of helping all of us through the pandemic get real recognition for their immense contribution to our societies. To ensure all of us are better prepared to face future unexpected health and other challenges, we must take action now on several fronts, including improving working conditions, social and health protection, and increasing investment in essential sectors. It is also high time to reduce gendered labour market segregations by challenging social norms that discourage women from accessing and thriving in the highest paid and most senior jobs. We must address the pervasive bias that only those with university degrees, high salaries and status merit respect for their contribution to our societies, when, in fact, nurses, long-term carers, teachers, and supermarket workers have been indispensable in keeping us safe and sane over more than two years. 

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Gender Equality Tackling COVID-19

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Go to the profile of Hirona Matayoshi
8 months ago

Educators including any other workforce with all genders, in respect, who have been diagnosed with COVID -19 even if steroids have not been prescribed, COVID -19 can cause new onset diabetes in high risk as well as worsening blood sugar control in those with preexisting diabetes. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/new-worse-cases-coronavirus

What we can predict is that working conditions will have to be changed for providing the workforce with a better diet with exercise recess for all.   Education  will have to change to accommodate those with health sustainable needs.  For example, lunch menus must change to vegan with consideration to those that need to control their blood sugar intake or diabetes.  Office and business must provide time for their workers to keep healthy with a recess time to prepare food, exercise, as well as rest.  Moreover, laws must be made to assure the workforce health mandates. Our society has changed significantly over these two years of the pandemic.  Post Pandemic will most likely become dealing with the life-long "after affects" of controlling blood sugar for the existing elderly as well as the  workforce and the youth.