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COVID-19 takes heavy toll on working women

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to workers all over the world—in both emerging and developing markets—but it has been even more calamitous for women.

The yearlong global fight against COVID-19 almost upended modest advances in giving women true equality. Still struggling to bridge successfully the gender gap, with progress slow and uneven, more women than men suffered dislocations and joblessness as a result of the pandemic.

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The recent report “JP Morgan Perspectives—The Widening Gender Gap: COVID-19 Takes a Toll” succinctly described how the disease adversely affected women: “COVID-19 unleashes a historic setback to female participation in the labor force.”

The report is part of JP Morgan’s global firm-wide Women on the Move (WOTM) initiative designed to help women inside and outside the company.“COVID-19 has had disproportionate effects on women and their economic status, resulting in historic setbacks on some metrics, as women have faced greater disruption due to the nature of their jobs and greater responsibility for child care,” the report found.

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Gender gap

The health crisis, it said, widened the gender gap for labor force participation, “as women are overrepresented in those sectors worst affected by the pandemic, as well as in part-time/irregular work arrangements.” Such sectors include services industries, retail, tourism, and hospitality that require face-to-face interactions.

The gender pay gap also persisted, even widening, as women reduced work hours to meet childcare demands. “Women remain at a significant disadvantage to men in accessing capital, credit, financial services and property ownership,” the report noted.

In the United States, the report said women employment declined “to a 33-year low, as women have jobs concentrated in the services sector and have borne greater responsibilities for childcare.” Earning gaps could be “as great as 5 percentage-points.”

If the situation is dire in a highly developed economy—the self-proclaimed richest country in the world—it is worse for so-called emerging markets (EM), which include the Philippines. “Women in EM countries lag DM (developed markets) on nearly all gender metrics, with an even wider diversion post COVID-19,” the JP Morgan paper said.

The study found that in EM countries, after years of male-dominated labor forces, there was “greater female to male population across emerging markets for all age brackets below 35” hence, the greater negative impact of the pandemic on these countries. The pandemic also slowed the rise of women in the US corporate ladder, although the country still registered a 22.6-percent share of board seats for women in the top American companies in 2020, compared to 20.4 percent in 2019. In EMs, women were estimated to hold 13 percent of board seats.

Representation

As of 2019, women accounted for only 4 percent of all chief executive officers across EM (vs 4.9 percent for MSCI US) despite representing a little under one-third of the workforce.

Describing the representation of women on EM company boards as still “subpar,” the report added, “Average female participation in the workforce across MSCI (Morgan Stanley Capital International, an investment research firm) EM has remained relatively stable over the past three years at approximately 30 percent.”

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The subpar participation is discouraging, not only from an absolute perspective given shifting population dynamics, but also from the fact that the trend seems to be stabilizing. The story is not very different at the very top with women holding a mere 12.7 percent of all board seats across MSCI EM as of 2019. While the number has been increasing, the rate of increase and its level relative to Russell 3000 companies (20.4 percent in 2019) remain tepid…”

Barriers

In terms of companies with women on board, the Philippines has a respectable accomplishment.

Some 67 percent of local companies have at least one woman on their board. Still, it pales in comparison to India and Malaysia, a fellow member country in the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean), each registering 100 percent. Another Asean member country, Thailand, has 91 percent while China has 72 percent.

Malaysia, together with South Africa, also has “the highest share of female directors at 26 percent each.”

The JP Morgan report said, “A significant barrier for women has been the lack of representation in senior leadership roles.”

While women were losing their jobs or advancing more slowly than before to corporate executive positions, it was found that in the United States and Europe, there was “increased female representation” in public leadership roles. The report said, “Europe remains the leader in advancing gender balance policies, but the Biden administration has appointed the most gender-diverse Cabinet in US history while a record 143 women now serve in the US Congress, holding 27 percent of the seats.”

Given the findings of the report, Sam Saperstein, head of WOTM, said JP Morgan was “committed to helping women build back stronger after 2020 to reach their professional and personal dreams and ensure they are on sound financial footing.” —Contributed INQ

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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