March 8 is the International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021. Together with Talent Management expert SumTotal Systems we have taken a look at developments and analyses made over the past 12 months to determine how the pandemic affected gender equality in the work-life.

Economic consequences

The crisis does not necessarily create new inequalities. However, in many cases it exposes or even intensifies them. A United Nations report states that it will be women who will suffer disproportionately from the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. And this is the case across the globe[i]. Women will be more affected by job losses and wage cuts, because the majority of employees in industries particularly affected by the lockdown measures, such as leisure, catering and retail, are female. In addition, there are more women working on the frontlines of the fight against the virus. Around 70% of healthcare workers worldwide and as many as 95% of long-term care workers are female.[ii] Therefore, they are particularly at risk, as an evaluation by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows.

Double burden primarily hits women

Even women who do not work in the most severely affected industries are particularly affected by measures such as lockdown and home schooling, as numerous studies have shown. A survey published in December 2020[iii] shows that the distribution of tasks within households predominantly still follows classic role models – even if both partners in a relationship are employed. During the Corona crisis, household and family chores are weighing more heavily than ever on the shoulders of women. Sixty-nine percent of women said they do the general housework, while only eleven percent of men claim to do so. The picture is similar for childcare and homeschooling. More than half of the respondents said that women do the chores involved, compared with between 13 and 15 percent of men. The fact that so many working women have nevertheless managed to balance their jobs and additional demands in the last 12 months should actually be proof of their special resilience and multitasking skills, which can also be a valuable advantage for their career and work-life as well.

Leadership in the crisis

There have been many anecdotes and Memes about female heads of state dealing better with the crisis. Research now confirms that the number of illnesses and deaths were systematically lower in countries led by women.[iv] A consulting firm decided to search its global database for patterns in how male and female leaders in organizations responded to the crisis. The data came from assessments of more than 60,000 leaders (22,603 women and 40,187 men)[v]. Women were rated more positively on 13 of the 19 competency assessments. In particular, women scored higher on interpersonal skills such as “inspiration and motivation,” “powerful communication,” “collaboration/teamwork,” and “relationship building.” It is particularly interesting to note that the positive rating advantage of female managers in the ratings of almost all leadership skills even increased over the course of the crisis as ratings from before and during the crisis were compared.

 Diversity deficits in Germany

Despite the clearly proven benefits of diversity at the management level[vi], this domain is still dominated by men. According to KfW Research, Germany has even fewer women in management positions than the international average. They occupy only 28% of middle to senior management positions, which is below average by international standards. In the USA, this proportion exceeds 40%, and in the EU the average is 31%. The struggle for equal opportunities, with the aim of ensuring more diversity at management level, has been going on for decades. Previous attempts to introduce “women’s quotas” have brought little movement at board level.  The United Nations has defined “gender equality” as one of the 17 global goals for sustainable development. The UN Global Compact provides companies with various tools and publications to promote gender equality[vii].

Gender pay gap as a starting point

With comprehensive social benefits, comparatively long maternity leave and one of the longest serving female head of state, Germany has a relatively good reputation in terms of equality. It is therefore even more surprising that, in addition to the low proportion of women in upper management, the gender pay gap is also one of the largest in the Euro area. In Italy, for example, women earn five percent less than men on average. In Germany, the gap is still nearly 20 percent[viii].

While the overarching issue of gender-based social and occupational inequality certainly cannot be solved in the short term, the gender pay gap offers a good starting point for targeting disadvantages. In 2018, Iceland introduced the world’s first policy requiring companies and institutions with more than 25 employees to proof that they pay men and women equally for a job of equal value. The directive is implemented through a job evaluation tool for the “Equal Wage Management Standard”. The impact of this standard implementation in Iceland has been so positive that certification has been made mandatory since 2020, and companies can be fined if they fail to certify[ix].

Wibke Sonderkamp


[i] https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/policy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_women_9_april_2020.pdf
[ii] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/looking-at-the-pandemic-through-gender-lens-women-are-facing-the-brunt-of-covid-19-with-more-job-cuts-less-pay/articleshow/75735303.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
[iii] https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/de/themen/aktuelle-meldungen/2020/dezember/corona-traditionelle-aufgabenverteilung-im-haushalt-belastet-frauen-stark
[iv] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3617953
[v] https://hbr.org/2020/12/research-women-are-better-leaders-during-a-crisis
[vi]https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Organization/Our%20Insights/Delivering%20through%20diversity/Delivering-through-diversity_full-report.ashx
[vii] https://www.globalcompact.de/de/newscenter/meldungen/Einblicke-in-die-Debatte-zum-Gesetz-zur-Frauenquote-und-Unterstuetzungsangebote-des-UN-Global-Compact.php
[viii] https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-gender-pay-gap-shrinks-but-still-higher-than-eu-average/a-55860947
[ix] https://hbr.org/2021/01/how-iceland-is-closing-the-gender-wage-gap?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29