The COVID-19 pandemic poses an unprecedented global health crisis with serious financial, economic and societal consequences around the world. Women are on the frontlines of both the health and economic crises, making up 70% of workers globally in health and social sectors. In order to mitigate the risk and impact of this global pandemic, governments and the private sector must collaborate to create and implement a comprehensive and gender-sensitive response.
On April 21, Rania Nashar, Chair of the B20 Saudi Arabia Women in Business Action Council and CEO of Samba Financial Group, a Saudi multinational banking firm, joined Financial Times’ Gillian Tett for a fireside chat to discuss COVID-19’s impact on women and the unique role they can play in the aftermath of the pandemic.
It is clear there will be long-lasting economic effects stemming from the COVID-19 crisis. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projects the possibility of growth contraction and 25 million people becoming unemployed globally. Sadly, these projections will most heavily impact women, more than 740 million of whom work in the informal economy with little to no social protections. This is supplemented by the fact that women are under societal pressure to undertake unpaid family work; parenting, educating, caring for their elderly family and otherwise providing for their household.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought to the forefront the challenges of the female workforce, and now is the right time to discuss what must change. There is an urgent need to ensure women are engaged in decision making processes across the board – from more women working in medical research to more women in political office. Women, as half of the population, are a fundamentally underutilized resource, and have been for far too long. By bringing them into decision-making processes, we can create opportunities for women to excel, which benefits the economy, companies and individuals.
This will not, however, come to fruition without flexibility. This is where there is opportunity for women in a post-COVID-19 world. Remote work will increasingly become the norm, providing much needed flexibility to women who are also responsible for childcare and other unpaid labor. On a larger scale, the added flexibility has the possibility to positively affect the economy by encouraging more women to remain in the workforce and move up into leadership positions.
Most importantly, by truly creating inclusive solutions, we can not only bring global business into the future, but we can ensure that our society is ready for all that lies ahead.