The Covid-effect on female employment: Italy and USA comparison

Covid has exacerbated the evils of female employment in Italy and the USA but it has also provided some good opportunities: this is what emerged from the studies carried out by Fondazione Bellisario and McKinsey in the two countries. A comparison between the two cases, in collaboration with Linkiesta.

Female work

Female employment is one of Italy’s greatest problems: women work little, with contracts that are on average more precarious and at lower salaries than those of men.

This gap has increasingly widened with the pandemic. In December 2020, 101 thousand people lost their jobs in Italy, 99 thousand of these are women. A staggering figure, which makes us reflect on Italy’s shortcomings when it comes to equal opportunities.

These problems also emerged from one study conducted by Fondazione Bellisario, with the help of Euromedia Research. The foundation analysed the socio-economic effects of the pandemic on two “parallel” universes: on the one hand, a representative sample of the Italian adult and working female population; on the other, 350 workers belonging to Fondazione Bellisario. The results of this double sampling are sometimes very similar, but often rather opposing.

Almost 60% of working women, in both cases, are doing it from home in remote working mode, however the Fondazione associates are more present in the usual workplace (37% versus 25%), while the universe of working women is weaker, with 11.3% in redundancy schemes and 4.5% who have lost their jobs due to the epidemic (as opposed to 3% and 1.6% in the case of women belonging to the Fondazione).

That said, remote working is still receiving a broad consensus from the two samples, who give a full pass mark (7.3) in both cases, although behind that substantially equal vote lie quite different reasons.

During the quarantine, a large part of the women interviewed (39.7%, which rises to 53% for the Fondazione) stated that they had a greater workload than usual and in both cases a very high percentage of them, around 70%, believes that in the medium term this schedule will become a common feature within companies and their work.

The trends observed in the United States are not much different.

The trend in the United States

As Amy Bernstein, a journalist for the New York Times, writes in her contribution for Linkiesta Forecast, this issue is also found in other countries, and particularly in the United States.
Remote working and the need to continue to keep their homes neat and clean, which have suddenly also turned into “schools” for their children, forced to attend lessons remotely, have burdened women with new responsibilities, new “tasks”.

When women have to juggle their working day and a disproportionate share of housework and commitment to looking after the family, the situation quickly gets out of hand.

An annual report on women and their jobs - compiled by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and the non-profit company LeanIn.org, which focuses on women’s working conditions - showed the negative impact of the pandemic and the related recession on the United States

The likelihood of losing their jobs is higher for women, and especially for black women. In short, what happened in Italy last December is not an isolated case.
And, for those women who still have jobs, the facilities that previously made it possible to work and, at the same time, take care of their family, have crumbled.
Schools, for example, have switched to distance learning or mixed learning, forcing many working mothers to play the role of teaching assistants and, at the same time, fulfil their own professional duties.
According to the report, one in four women in the United States is thinking of lightening their professional commitment or quitting their job altogether. And such a trend threatens to unravel years of women’s gains in the workplace.
It is a dangerous road, because in the last twenty years, women’s employment has made great strides in the Western world, and governments should therefore do everything they can to prevent the hands of the clock from turning back on these issues.
Added to this is the psychological difficulty of those who have no longer been able to work over the past challenging year. While it is true that public aid has been fundamental for many, and has allowed them to continue to do their food shopping without problems, it is equally certain that staying at home doing nothing can be very hard.
For those whose self-perception is inextricably linked to their work, not working can represent an existential blow.
It is perhaps an underestimated but very important aspect, especially for those working in the non-profit sector or in particularly creative environments: salary is only one variable among the many that make us happy.


Work-life balance in remote working: old habits and new opportunities

However, the situation is not necessarily all doom and gloom. As brutal as the new reality was, there were also some small silver linings. Millions of us no longer have to deal with the torture of commuting and workplaces have become much more flexible in the way they organise their activities, and this is a change that is set to remain.

Of course, it also has its downsides, with people possibly working longer hours for no extra money: but it is exactly this battle that women can lead in the near future.

Also because the ancient veneration for the “ideal worker” is being dealt a severe blow. The idea that the most valuable employee is the one who works the longest hours, is always available, and prioritises his/her job over everything else has never made much sense to most working women, who, after all, have always had to juggle between their responsibilities in the office and those at home.

One lesson we should all learn from the 2020 crises is that the time has come for women to adjust their expectations according to their aspirations - and not to some outdated external model - and for employers to respect this right.

In conclusion, 2020 has been a difficult year for all. For women, it has meant many things: some problems have worsened, job losses have affected many, and the fatigue has at times been unbearable.
But like all crises, the pandemic and 2021 can offer opportunities to break some bad habits once and for all and to make lasting gains in terms of work flexibility.
We are not going back to “normal”, says Amy Bernstein. And maybe that’s a good thing.