Workforce in the grip of a ‘she-cession’

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IT has redefined what constitutes an 'essential worker' to the detriment of women, finds Billy MacInnes

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Billy

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26 August 2021 | 0

I have learned a new compound word this week: ‘she-cession’. It’s not something I had heard much about until now but it looks to be a very significant problem arising from the pandemic. According to an article in the Irish Examiner, Covid-19 could be “pushing more women to the sidelines” with negative consequences on gender equality in Ireland.

A study by researchers from Cork University Business School and NUI Galway found women were “more acutely” affected by unemployment during the pandemic than men with women 1.4 times more likely to be looking for work than men in 2020.

Dr Meave O’Sullivan, one of the authors of the report, described it as a ‘she-cession’, adding: “In the longer term, there is significant concern among academics, employers and policymakers as to whether women will return to paid employment post-pandemic, given that some jobs no longer exist.”

 

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Right now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with IT. It doesn’t appear to be directly connected, at least on the surface. But let’s think about it for a minute.

Everyone is in agreement that the IT industry was one of the most prominent ‘successes’ during the pandemic. When the world shifted to remote working and people were locked down in their homes for weeks or months, IT played a massive role in helping businesses to continue operating and people to carry on working wherever they happened to be.

It did so well, in fact, that there is a growing consensus that by making remote working possible in such difficult circumstances and under such immense pressure, the IT industry has effectively made it a de facto part of everyday working life today and into the future. There is no going back.

And that’s great, it really is. But it hasn’t changed anything for a lot of women. As Dr O’Sullivan points out “women comprise over 70% of essential workers and are employed in sectors initially impacted by the national lockdown”.

What do we make of that phrase, ‘essential workers’? What are we to make of the fact that technology was not able to protect or adapt their roles to the extent that they could continue to be fulfilled during the pandemic?

If we look at the world through the lens of what IT can do for people, employment, organisations and businesses, what does that say about those “essential workers” that their roles could not be catered for by technology? Or for those jobs that may no longer exist?

If those jobs and workers were essential before Covid-19, why are they no longer so in the post-pandemic world? Is it because they were going to become non-essential anyway? Or is it because our application of technology during the pandemic has made them ‘non-essential’ in the different world that has emerged after Covid-19?

As a society we need to reflect a little on why it is that jobs overwhelmingly fulfilled by women should be considered ‘essential’ but also ‘expendable’. What does that say about the world we live in and the way we look at it? And from the point of view of the IT industry, why is it that the things we have done to make work better in so many instances have, when it comes to the biggest test, appeared to be of so little benefit to so many jobs being done by women?

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