Pandemic takes toll on working women; majority are less optimistic about their career prospects today

  • Seventy-six percent of Australian women surveyed say their workload has increased since the COVID-19 crisis and sixty one percent of Australian women say household commitments have increased too 
  • Job satisfaction among Australian women has also declined from sixty nine percent pre-pandemic to forty seven percent  
  • A majority of Australian women surveyed feel less optimistic about their career prospects than before the pandemic; nearly a quarter may leave the workforce for good  
  • Some employers who are leading the way in gender equality have successfully supported women throughout the pandemic with flexible work practices and inclusive cultures  

Heightened workloads and household responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic are driving  deep dissatisfaction among many women in the workforce, according to a new Deloitte Global report, “Women @  Work: A global outlook”.

The report finds that these increased responsibilities are having a significant impact on working women as 49% of  those surveyed in Australia (compared to 51% globally) are less optimistic about their career prospects today than  they were before the pandemic.

Additionally, the women surveyed were asked to consider their mental health and motivation at work at the time of  the survey and pre-COVID. The women reported a 35-point drop in mental health and a 27-point drop in motivation  at work now compared to their sentiment before the pandemic.

Representing the views of 500 women in Australia and 5,000 women across 10 countries, the research reveals a stark reality for women in the workplace: gender equality has regressed during the pandemic, stifling years of slow,  but steady progress. Increased responsibilities at work and at home during the pandemic, coupled with non-inclusive  workplace cultures, are resulting in diminishing job satisfaction and employer loyalty for women.

There are lessons to be learned from organisations that are focused on gender equality and inclusion.

Wellbeing decreasing: Women shouldering more responsibilities at work and at home

Since the pandemic began, 76% of Australian women surveyed say their workloads have increased – the most  frequently-cited change in their lives brought on by the pandemic.

Women are also taking on more responsibilities managing household and caregiving tasks: 61% say they’re spending  more time on domestic tasks; 36% are spending more time caring for children; and 25% cite more time caring for dependents other than children.

Further the women who reported they needed to change their working hours as a consequence of COVID reported  that their relationship with their employer is negatively impacted.

Women considering leaving: Employers not adequately supporting their workforces

Only 22% of women believe their employers have helped them establish clear boundaries between work and personal time. 46% of women have found it difficult to switch off from work and a third of Australian respondents  believed that their organisations will care less about them if they switch off.

The survey suggests that women’s wellbeing has fallen since the pandemic: only one third of women consider their  mental wellbeing today to be “good” or “extremely good,” compared to 70% prior to the pandemic.

The Australian women surveyed reported a 22-point drop in job satisfaction since the pandemic began. 57% of all  women surveyed plan to leave their employer in two or fewer years, and a lack of work/life balance is the number  one reason these women would consider leaving their jobs. Not only are many women questioning their current career prospects, but nearly a quarter are also considering leaving the workforce altogether.

Deloitte Chief Strategy Officer Clare Harding said the findings of the survey underlines the importance for businesses and government to rethink the level of flexibility and support required to address some of the issues identified in Australia.

“While the adverse impact on women’s wellbeing, motivation, and engagement is obvious, our research also shows  that some employers are getting it right: The women who work for these organisations report higher levels of mental  wellbeing, job satisfaction, motivation and productivity,” Ms Harding said.

“As we start to build workplaces for the future, we have an opportunity to get gender equality and inclusion right.  Rather than setting back years of progress we can use this moment to move forward.

“This report illustrates how important it is to keep listening to the women in our workforce. We need to provide workplace flexibility to suit their individual needs. We need to consider the impact of the pandemic on working families – such as home schooling, childcare needs and mental health – and as employers we need to be proactive in  supporting working families.”

A better working environment: Meet the gender equality leaders 

There are some employers that are leading the way in gender equality – these represent the employers of roughly  4% of respondents.  These organisations have created more flexible and inclusive cultures where women feel they  are better supported.

The benefits of being a gender equality leader are clear:

  • 70% of all women who work for these leading organisations rate their productivity as “good” or “very good,” compared to just 29% of lagging organisations (defined as businesses with a less inclusive, low-trust culture, which make up 31% of the sample.)
  • 72% of women who work for gender equality leaders rate their job satisfaction as “good” or “extremely good,” compared with just 21% of women who work for lagging organisations.
  • 70% of women who work for leading organisations plan to stay with their employers for two years or more, compared to 8% of women working for lagging organisations.

There are several actions organisations can take now to address this critical issue, including prioritising work/life  balance and flexible working options that extend beyond workplace policies and are entrenched in the company culture; empowering women to succeed in life outside of work to enable success at work; and offering fulfilling  development opportunities that build skills and expertise.