I wish I could be just as positive as the excellent Rana Foroohar in her column, with the optimistic headline that ‘women are redefining the labor market’ (Opinion, September 20). But I’m afraid I can not ignore the ‘many counter-indicators’ about gender inequality that she recognizes and that have been presented in other recent FT stories.
Jonathan Moules (“MBA gender pay gap halves to 20 percent”, FT.com, September 23), for example, reports a survey showing that although the gender pay gap for MBA graduates has been reduced, it remains at an unacceptable 20 percent. Even more worrying, Claire Bushey (“Lack of abortion access will bring American women back, economists warn”, FT.com, September 22), findings from a group of U.S. economists reported that the decline in abortion in U.S. states such as Texas “has a significant impact on women’s wages and educational performance.”
In the UK, the IES analysis shows that women are more likely than men to work in the weak jobs in low-paying sectors, such as care, entertainment and hospitality, which are hardest hit by lockouts and our faltering economic recovery. Women also dominate in key functions, which are mostly not allowed for the distribution of homework that Foroohar rightly rejoices.
As of March 2021, the UN’s Covid-19 Global Gender Response Tracker has drawn up policies in 219 countries that respond to the unequal impact of the pandemic. Only 19 percent of them had a comprehensive response, and the US and UK are not down there.
The UN’s conclusion is that, despite the clear gender implications of the crises, response and recovery efforts tend to ignore the needs of women and girls until it’s too late. We need to do better. According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “a higher ambition is needed to make the necessary policy changes”.
Foroohar offers the optimism and ambition needed to keep fighting for gender equality. But we also need realism to recognize that, as she writes, ‘inequality still divides the labor market’. Denial of inequality can ultimately be just as harmful as denial of abortions.
As our economy recovers, we need to step up our efforts at government and employer level to address gender inequality.
Principal, Institute for Employment Studies, London TW10, UK