Olivia White (UT & Merton '97) Co-Authors McKinsey Global Institute Gender Equality Report

McKinsey Global Institute has new research on how the COVID-19 pandemic is proving regressive to gender equality. The research updates and builds on the landmark 2015 global report on gender equality, The Power of Parity.

The study finds that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s. One reason for this greater effect on women is that the virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women. The research explores this issue as well as other gender barriers at work and in society.

All this has a potentially significant impact for global GDP. The study finds that doing nothing about gender equality now could reduce GDP in 2030 by $1 trillion relative to the case where women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector. However, addressing gender equality now could boost global GDP by $13 trillion by 2030 compared to the gender-regressive scenario. A middle ground, of delaying until the pandemic has subsided before taking action, would also boost GDP but by $5 trillion less than the best “take action now” scenario.

Based on the analysis of 15 gender-equality indicators across four categories: equality in work, essential services and enablers of economic opportunity, legal protection and political voice, and physical security and autonomy, the study finds, in the aggregate, progress toward equality in work and society has stayed relatively flat in the five years between 2014 and 2019. The world has made positive progress on a few aspects, such as maternal mortality, the share of women in professional and technical jobs, and political representation. However, the level of female participation in the labor force is about two-thirds that of male participation and has hardly budged in that period.

Now, without intervention to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women, there’s a risk it could go into reverse. Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses in this pandemic, according to the analysis. Indeed, women’s employment is dropping faster than average, even accounting for the fact that women and men work in different sectors.

The research highlights some critically important choices for policy and business leaders: act now to remove barriers to greater female labor participation and a bigger role in society, and reap the economic and social benefits; delay and still benefit, but to a substantially lesser degree; or allow the disappointing status quo to prevail and slide backwards, leaving massive economic opportunity on the table and impacting the lives of millions of women. This would not just set back the cause of gender equality, but also hold back the global economy and recovery.

Countering COVID regressive gender equality.pdf