How the pandemic has affected working women
OOMEN IN BUSINESS have broken three records lately. The number of bosses at the head of Fortune 500 Companies in America is at an all-time high of 41. In 2021 SVC Health, the country’s fourth largest company by revenue, has become the largest to be run by a woman, Karen Lynch (pictured). And for the first time, two giant corporations—Walgreens Boots Alliance, another chemist, and TIAAa financial services company, are run by black women.
In America and other affluent countries, women in business are making progress, according to The Economist‘s glass-ceiling index, an annual snapshot of women’s empowerment. Their share of board seats is increasing in most places (although it has fallen since 2019 in progressive Sweden). Female representation on boards jumped in the Netherlands and Germany after the introduction of mandatory quotas. But laws are not everything. Voluntary UK government targets have also increased the share of women on company boards FTSE 100 companies, from 12.5% ten years ago to nearly 40%. Investors who care about environmental, social and governance factors are increasingly pushing companies to treat male and female employees equally.
Yet women in business still have a long way to go before they catch up with their male counterparts, particularly at the higher echelons of corporate hierarchies, and in some respects follow their female colleagues in politics (see chart). Men still occupy more than two out of three seats on corporate boards in America. In South Korea, they monopolize more than nine out of ten. Women continue to earn less than their male colleagues (never mind that girls outperform boys in school all over the world). OECD, a club of predominantly wealthy countries). In America, the results are even worse for women of color, who earn less than white women and are even more underrepresented in leadership positions.
Even more troubling, too many women are leaving the corporate ladder altogether. Although remote work has made it easier for some women to combine work with family chores (still done mostly by mothers and wives), the pandemic has pushed a disproportionate number of them out of the workforce. Participation of women in the labor market OECD countries went from 65% before the first hit of covid-19 to 63.8% a year later. Blocking female advancement may be another insidious consequence of the virus. ■
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This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “No-ceiling fans”