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Beyond the ‘Shecession’

What women really want after a year of career setbacks

Disclaimer: The results from our 2021 Learner Survey show 100% of respondents this year identified as either male or female.

Working for an employer that disproportionately pays men more is nothing short of familiar for most women.

In fact, 90% of working women work for a company with a gender pay gap.

And this was before the pandemic hit…

Covid impacted everyone in different ways. When it comes to employment, women had it bad.

Real bad.

More women than men were made redundant or furloughed during the pandemic, in part because women are more likely to be working within the retail, care, and hospitality sectors – some of the industries we know were hit hardest by the pandemic!

Between February and May 2020, 11.5 million women lost their jobs, compared to 9 million men.

Both numbers are tragic and have devastated many lives, but the fact remains that the number of women who lost and are still losing their jobs is much higher than men.

Enter the ‘shecession‘.

A ‘Shecession’? What on earth is that?

You’ve heard of a ‘recession’, right?

A moment in time where the economy crumbles, people are short of money and opportunities, and businesses tend to come to a halt.

Well, imagine that, but just for women.

Broken down, this ‘SHE-cession’, or a ‘recession for working women’ has shone a huge light on just how vulnerable women are in the workplace due to a patriarchal society.

When industries such as childcare and education suffered nationwide shutdowns during the pandemic, parents – primarily the female caregivers – were forced to sacrifice their careers.

Okay… but how bad is the shecession?

The latest data for the gender pay gap in the UK showed that women earned on average 15.5% less than men.

A recent survey by PwC demonstrates it would take at least 112 years to close the gender pay gap and at the current rate, at least 4 years for the female unemployment rate to fall to men’s current unemployment rate.

This is a huge step back for female empowerment, and this shecession highlights the societal inequities that still exist and need to be worked on – such as unequal pay, a shortage of professional opportunities and unconscious (or in some cases, very conscious!) bias towards women.

How do we show up and support working women?

Thankfully, it’s not all bad.

The women who are still working or are changing roles post-furlough and redundancy are ready to boost their careers.

Our latest Learner Survey found that women want more access to learning across the board than men: 48% of women would like more learning opportunities versus 39% of men.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, 31% of women feel the need to enhance their skills for a promotion or pay rises compared to just 22% of men.

With many women forced to leave their careers for family or simply being viewed as less valuable in the workplace, it’s clear women feel the need to fight for their careers.

Learning is crucial for women right now. They want to upskill, and they want to develop, including in their own time.

Want to know how you can empower these knowledge-seeking women?

Our survey shows that women love eLearning, with 75% rating it highly effective.

They also engage better with bite-sized learning than men (65% to 57%).

And alongside learning opportunities, flexible working is a key driver for women (and no, it’s not just about childcare!), with 43% of women are looking to change roles in the next 12 months for employers offering flexible working arrangements.

eLearning + flexible working is a dreamy combo for any working parent, busy socialite, or any number of lifestyles. In fact, it’s becoming the desired norm for many UK workers to balance life, learning, and work holistically.

Looking to the future…

The number of women looking to focus on their learning and development, despite the ‘shecession’, gives us hope that the fight for economic equality will not be dissipated by the pandemic.

The corporate world is changing, and many workplaces see value in flexible working and eLearning and are progressing towards accommodating work lives around personal development – a must for women and men alike.

Organisations must support employees, but it’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Everyone is different; every person has different needs.

Communicate with your teams, ask how women in the workplace can be supported. What is it they want from their careers? You’ve seen that data, a big chunk of employees are looking to leave – so why not focus on how to keep employees happy, motivated, and engaged?

Want more L&D insights?

Discover how to nurture your digital learning culture, how to adapt your post-pandemic L&D strategy, plus brand-new learning methods that keep your employees engaged.

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Written by Mara Swann

Mara has a passion for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion across global workplaces and hopes to inspire learners to focus on their own careers with self-directed learning content.


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