Why the EU needs to focus on Gender Equality and Diversity & Inclusion
Gender equality (GE) and the inclusion of diverse minority groups are more important agenda priorities in Europe than ever before. They represent values at the core of democratic standards in the 21st century and test the capacity of the European Union to live up to its motto: United in Diversity.
The pandemic has exacerbated several structural divides, including for women and minority groups. Many women, especially those on the front lines, have experienced a deterioration of life conditions and of their access to political, social and economic participation.
Minority groups struggled for equal rights and opportunities even more than before the pandemics, including ethnic, racial and religious minorities, LGBTIQ+ and persons with disabilities.
Gender equality, diversity and inclusion (D&I) were not always part of the policy considerations that shaped EU and national responses to the crisis.
The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will very likely result in a recession in the EU and worldwide. ILO estimated that almost 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide due to covid-19, with up to 35 million additional people facing working poverty. Unemployment, poverty, social unrest, populism, erosion of Democracy and fundamental rights. Further disregarding Diversity and Inclusion agendas will reduce our democratic standards and that comes at a dangerous price, as recent situations of social unrest illustrate (e.g. the invasion of the US Capitol). And it will make our economy, our companies and organisations less innovative, agile, effective and resilient. We cannot afford that!
Moreover, we simply cannot accept that, when things go wrong those who pay the highest price are those who were already struggling, being discriminated, aggressed, unfairly treated and excluded from multiple sectors of our societies. Ample proof that Covid19 pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing all the vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.
Half of the world’s population, women, are paying a disproportionally bigger toll. Even the limited gains made towards GE in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back by Covid19 pandemic.
- Research shows that the economic effects of COVID-19 have hit – and will continue to hit- women harder. Worldwide, the pandemic has devastated female-dominated fields, while increasing the unpaid caregiving responsibilities that women disproportionately shoulder.
- stark differences between men and women in the areas of employment, telework, childcare and home-schooling.
- For example, the loss of jobs due to social distancing measures has disproportionately affected sectors with more women. There is also a significant impact on working women and single mothers, as the closures of schools and daycare centres continue to massively increase childcare needs. Moreover, women are overrepresented on the frontline in the fight against the virus. In the EU, they represent 76% of healthcare workers, roughly 90% of workers in childcare and care of the elderly, and 95% of domestic cleaners and helpers.
- Women work for less income, have less social protection, are at bigger risk of suffering violence and exclusion, are disproportionally leaving/being kept in the job market, and are disproportionally responsible for unpaid care and household.
- Women of color face more discrimination, less opportunities, and disproportionally working in low-income jobs (independently from the education they have).
- Women with Disability discriminated, lesser access to job market, segregation, etc.
- LGBTQI+ continue facing violence and discrimination.
- Older and younger generations face specific challenges with the current crisis.
- Pandemics & upcoming recession: Those with precarious employment conditions (temporary, etc) or those in contact/service jobs will be those who will pay the biggest price: women tend to be disproportionally represented in these categories.
- Women make up almost 85% of all single parents in the EU and almost half (48 %) are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to a third (32 %) of single fathers. Covid-19 is likely to increase that risk.
- Intersecting and structural discrimination creates additional barriers and challenges, as well as having a negative socio-economic impact on more vulnerable groups of women. Appropriate measures must be developed to reflect the varying circumstances in which women find themselves. These include older women in care homes that are now virus hotspots, women with disabilities unable to access their usual support networks or maintain physical distancing, migrant women that are more vulnerable to gender-based violence, but also rural, homeless and Roma women as well as members of the LGBTQI+ community
Every crisis brings opportunities.
Clearly there is the Risk of GE losing priority due to basic needs related to pandemics. However, all research shows that women can also be the backbone of recovery in their companies, communities, countries. More than ever, Europe needs ALL talents to recover from the pandemics and the recession that will continue to unfold.
Advancing women’s equality can add $28 trillion to global growth, said McKinsey’s Global Institute report 2018. So one can conclude time is ripe for GE and D&I – Companies and all organisations that continue to prioritise GE and D&I will have more chances to rebuild after the crisis, as they will gain in the well-proven advantages of a diverse organization – resilience, good decision-making, innovation, agility.
This is what was seen after the last big financial crisis and it is what research is showing.
- EU and member states need to understand the strategic imperative of equality, diversity and inclusion, and make sure that all women and men of different backgrounds are part of the recovery and resilience plans and related decision-making. This will help to build sustainable democracies and prosperity.
- Recovery Plans in the EU and at member states level to ensure concrete incentives and targets to create inclusive and gender balanced workplaces and societies.
- EU countries to incorporate a chapter with targeted actions to improve gender equality in their national recovery and resilience plans.
- It is crucial that all regional, national and local emergency and recovery responses place women and girls – their inclusion, protection, representation, rights, social and economic rights at the center.
- Ensure Women seat at the decision-making tables and have an equal say about all response planning and funding,
- The different impact the pandemic has had on women and men should be further researched. This will enable the design of customized gender-fair bailouts, subsidies and other economic recovery measures.
- Learning the Lessons from prior crisis: several measures adopted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis were not enough to protect women and minorities (EIGE)
- improving parental leave, affordable child care, family support packages.
- Urgent: equalizing salaries, social security and access to pensions.
- Financial support for lone parents to assist with childcare, rent payments and other household expenses could help to alleviate poverty and social precarity.
- Tools and support to work-family balance and mental health: Online and hybrid work formats, and education/school from home, are far from being satisfactory and adapted to the needs of women and any of the other excluded groups
- Dismantling gender stereotypes and ideas about traditional gender roles could encourage more men to pick up their fair share of unpaid work at home.
- Address the structural shortcomings and value/promote a care economy.
- Invest in creating and inclusive Culture in all organisations and inclusive Leadership Styles – recovery will need new leaders’ styles: collaborative, inclusive, creative/innovative, emotionally intelligence is at the heart. That’s part of our work at REDSCOPE.
- Inclusive Leaders are ready to invest in Life-Long-Learning and have a growth-mindset. They develop critical skills needed to build inclusive work relationships, teams, and organizations.
- They are bias-aware and explore the impact of unintended associations.
- They inspire commitment to practice visible inclusive leadership at the personal, team and organizational levels.
- They are role models, mentors and sponsors.