Rebuilding a Stronger Economy with Women

Women are bearing a disproportionate impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to experts taking part in a virtual roundtable hosted by Goal 17 Partners.

Many of the service sector jobs facing significant losses due to the global recession are filled with women, said Katja Iversen of Women Deliver and Julie Gebauer of Willis Towers Watson.

Many other women work in front line health care positions and are putting themselves at great risk treating those with the virus. There has also been a spike in domestic violence cases against women around the world – from the U.S. to Lebanon to Spain to Malaysia.

At the same time, those countries that are seen as being best prepared to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and most effective in their response – such as Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Finland – are led by women.

History has taught us that periods of increased political and economic volatility, as well as health crises, disproportionately impact girls and women and further amplify the gender, economic and societal inequalities around the world. 

Gender parity has a fundamental bearing on whether or not economies and societies thrive, and it is estimated that $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 by advancing gender equality. 

Moderated by Shelly Zalis, CEO of Female Quotient, participants discussed the immediate challenges facing women in the face of the pandemic and the resulting economic fallout and, looking ahead, how this moment of crisis can be used to accelerate gender equality and Sustainable Development Goal 5.

You can watch the full video of the panel here.

The Path Forward

Despite the immediate implications of the crisis and knowing there is a long road ahead before we are fully recovered, we must look forward and take concrete action to foster a more inclusive, more prosperous society by enhancing the ability of women to succeed at the heart of that vision. As Iversen emphasized, “Now is the time to put down tracks that can never be removed.”

The recommendations proposed by the panelists fell into three categories:

Ecosystem Change – the ability of organizations to partner with others is both a way to address quickly the immediate needs of the COVID-19 pandemic and to foster long-term change.

Sara Moss, Vice Chair of Estée Lauder Companies, pointed to the pandemic as a reminder that no one organization can go at it alone. If companies want to come out of this crisis stronger, they must be willing to engage with those in the public and cause sectors and use that engagement to build a network of partners to scale lasting change.

Network Change – individuals and organizations can use this moment to rethink the value they bring to those in their network, be they business partners or colleagues. For example, this is a time to virtually train employees against implicit biases far too common in the workplace. New policies can be developed and implemented around virtual work so as to support women, such as providing greater access to child-care and well-being. Looking into the coming months as we begin a slow return to normalcy, an important point of caution was raised by Sara Moss when she noted: “Organizations who scaled back must get women back to work at a similar rate as that of men and pay a fair wage in that process.” 

Individual Change – Each of the participants in the conversation made a personal commitment to use this time of uncertainty to improve how they treat themselves and others in their personal networks. This is a time for honestly, resilience, empathy, and patience – with ourselves, with our colleagues, and with our friends and family. As Mini Timmaraju, Executive Director, Diversity & Inclusion at Comcast, pointedly observed, “Leadership in a time of crisis comes from a willingness to be more vulnerable, to express our hopes and fears, all while better appreciating the needs and interests of our families and our colleagues at work.”

Iversen issued a call to action to all of those listening and beyond: “If we are to achieve change we must listen, learn, and partner. It will require all sectors working together to recover from the pandemic and create a better world for women and girls.”