Women planning to leave workforce for good due to Covid pressures

01 June 2021 Consultancy.com.au 4 min. read
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According to a new survey by professional services firm Deloitte, almost one quarter of Australian female employees have considered leaving the workforce due to pressures brought about by the pandemic, with increased workloads and home duties having a heavy toll on mental well-being.

Despite Australia’s relative success in blunting the short-term economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, half of the nation’s female employees feel less optimistic as to their future career prospects today compared to prior to its onset – with a significant 23 percent having recently considered leaving the workforce altogether. This is according to a new Deloitte survey of 5,000 female workers in ten countries worldwide, including 500 in Australia.

Conducted between November and March, the ‘Woman@Work’ survey canvassed a broad cross-section of both care-giving and non care-giving female workers in a variety of sectors and roles, including C-suite executives through to those in non-managerial positions. Altogether, less than a half are satisfied with their jobs, a dramatic 22 point drop since before the pandemic. Those who rated their job satisfaction as poor or extremely poor rose from 6 percent to 32 percent.

Impact of Covid-19 on Australian female workplace satisfaction

Moreover, a staggering 46 percent of respondents consider their current mental well-being to be 'poor’ or extremely poor’, up from only 7 percent, while the number who rate it as good or better has been slashed by half from 70 percent to just 35 percent – with with the added work and care-giving pressures brought about by Covid-19 evidently to blame. Also previously at 70 percent, only a third of female workers in Australia now say they have a positive work-life balance.

In all, over three quarters of the respondents have experienced an increased workplace load due to the pandemic, while three out of five have also had to contend with increased responsibilities at home – two thirds already taking on the bulk of family household management responsibilities and chores.

Notably, 57 percent of female workers believe their employer has not demonstrated a sufficient commitment to supporting women during the pandemic.

Impact of Covid-19 on Australian female workers

The upshot is that a massive 57 percent of local female respondents expect to leave their current workplace within the coming two years – with nearly a quarter considering leaving the workforce altogether.

Perhaps of surprise is that despite Australia’s widely-lauded efforts to contain the worst of the pandemic, these figures correspond closely to the sentiments of global respondents, including female workers in harder-hit places such as India, South Africa, the UK and Brazil.

And the ramifications for society and business are severe. The Deloitte report states; “According to the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has set gender parity efforts back by a generation or more. Business leaders cannot ignore this. If they do not move to proactively address gender inequality in the workplace, they are likely to lose some of their best people – and may struggle to recruit younger talent, who choose employers that demonstrate a truly inclusive culture.”

Gender-equality leading workplaces in Australia

There is however one small bright spot. A tiny fraction of respondents stated that their employers had made “good progress in building inclusive, flexible, high-trust cultures that support women,” which Deloitte refers to as “gender equality leaders.” At the global level, 72 percent of female workers in these companies rate their job satisfaction as ‘good’ or ‘extremely good’, with 70 percent intending to stay in their jobs for at least two years – a quarter for more than five years.

“This report illustrates how important it is to keep listening to the women in our workforce,” said Deloitte Australia’s Sydney-based Chief Strategy Officer Clare Harding. “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.”