Women believe career prospects have been hampered by the pandemic

A combination of heightened workloads and household duties has led to job dissatisfaction, pessimism over prospects and deteriorating mental health, Deloitte says

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Working women are juggling heightened workloads and more household duties during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to deep job dissatisfaction, pessimism about career prospects and deteriorating mental health, according to a global survey by Deloitte.

Consulting firm Deloitte's survey of 5,000 women across 10 countries found that 51 per cent of respondents now feel less optimistic about their career prospects than they did before the pandemic. Some 29 per cent of the women, who said their career is not progressing as fast as they would like, blame poor mental health as a major reason.

Of all the women surveyed, only a third consider their mental wellbeing to be "good" or "extremely good" currently, compared with 68 per cent before the pandemic. Only 22 percent said their employers have allowed them to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, according to the Deloitte report titled Women @ Work: A global outlook. 

The surveyed women reported a 35-point drop in mental health and a 29-point drop in motivation at work compared to before the crisis.

"The last year has been a ‘perfect storm’ for many women facing increased workloads and greater responsibilities at home, a blurring of the boundaries between the two and continued experiences of non-inclusive behaviours at work,” Rana Ghandour Salhab, people and purpose partner at Deloitte Middle East, said.

Major organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the International Labour Organisation have sounded the alarm about the pandemic's impact on women's lives socially and economically. The crisis has highlighted existing inequalities, disproportionately affected women and threatened to wipe out hard-won gains made in gender parity over the years, the organisations said in previous reports.

Since the onset of the pandemic, 77 per cent of women surveyed said that their workloads have increased – the most frequently-cited change in their lives due to the crisis. Women are also taking on more household and care-giving tasks: 59 per cent say they’re spending more time on domestic tasks; 35 per cent are spending more time caring for children; and 24 per cent cite more time caring for other dependents.

"The mounting responsibilities are taking a clear toll on their physical health, mental wellbeing and career ambitions," the report said.

Working women also continue to face non-inclusive work environments from disparaging remarks about their gender to their judgment being questioned.

More than half of the women surveyed, 52 per cent, have experienced some form of harassment or micro-aggression in the past year, the survey showed.

Most women do not report these behaviours, mainly due to fear of career reprisal and in some cases because the companies do not have reporting mechanisms in place.

"Women who have experienced non-inclusive behaviours are even more likely to consider leaving their employers and the workforce altogether in this time of high stress and uncertainty," the report said.

With regard to satisfaction with their jobs, 57 per cent of women say they plan to leave their current job within two years and 21 per cent of these women expect to leave in less than a year. Work-life balance was the top reason they would consider leaving their current employer.

Younger women of colour between the ages of 18 to 37 years are more likely than the overall survey sample to feel less optimistic about their career prospects today than before the pandemic (58 per cent, versus 51 per cent) and are more likely to believe their careers are not progressing quickly enough (54 per cent, versus 42 per cent).

However, some companies have created genuinely inclusive cultures where women believe they are fully supported by management and respected by their peers, the report said.

Women who work for these organisations—which Deloitte dubs "gender equality leaders"—report higher levels of mental wellbeing, motivation, productivity and loyalty to their employers. They are also far more likely to say they are planning to stay with their employers for longer than two years.

"As organisations look to rebuild their workplaces, those that prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion in their policies and culture and provide tangible support for the women in their workforces will be more resilient against future disruptions," Maya Rafii, diversity and inclusion leader at Deloitte Middle East, said.

"They will lay the groundwork needed to propel women and gender equity"  forward in the workplace.

Organisations must act now to retain their female talent by creating and maintaining a truly inclusive culture, enabling work-life balance, showing visible commitment from their leaders towards gender balance and providing fulfilling development opportunities, the consultancy recommended.

Almost a quarter of women listed better support for childcare, the provision of short-term sabbaticals and improved resources to support mental health as the top three things their organisations could do to help develop and retain female staff, the survey showed.

"Unless we reverse the harm done over the past year, the impact will be felt by female employees around the globe as well as the organisations that will miss their critical contributions for decades to come," the report said.