Gender and the pandemic

Crisis shifts work-life balance for Cayman’s professional women.

Louise Reed, deputy chairperson of Gender Equality Cayman.

Before the COVID-19 crisis hit Cayman’s economy, the islands’ workforce already faced a gendered leadership gap.

Men occupied at least three out of four senior positions among organisations that participated in Gender Equality Cayman’s 2019 survey.

A misconception persisted, however, that gender equality had been met in certain companies simply by employing equal numbers of men and women across all ranks, explains Louise Reed, deputy chairperson of the Gender Equality Cayman committee.

In reality, Cayman’s employers entered 2020 facing an imbalance among men and women in leadership positions, insufficient family leave policies and a lack of transparency regarding promotions and salaries.

“The 2019 survey suggests some reoccurring themes on how discrimination in the workplace can manifest itself,” Reed says. “Quite often they were identified as more traditional barriers, things like starting a family or childcare needs, that were identified as limiting career progression.”

For women with children and significant household demands, professional advancement was further limited by a culture of long working hours and providing constant availability to employers, Reed explains.

Insufficient maternity and paternity leave policies in Cayman also reinforced the concept of men as breadwinners and women as homemakers.

Pandemic challenges

With the onset of the pandemic, challenges for working women have grown.

“From a global perspective, it’s not an exaggeration to stress that the pandemic has the potential to derail or even reverse global gains made towards gender equality and the rights of women and girls,” Reed says.

In July, the McKinsey Global Institute calculated that globally, women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to the effects of the crisis than men’s jobs. While women made up 39% of global employment, the institute wrote, they had accounted for 54% of overall job losses.

“One reason for this greater effect on women is that the virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women.” the institute wrote.

“This, among other factors, means that women’s employment is dropping faster than average, even accounting for the fact that women and men work in different sectors.”

In Cayman, the full impact of the crisis on working women has yet to be determined. Gender Equality Cayman will explore this topic in its next survey in 2021. Anecdotal feedback, however, provides an early indication that the crisis has been a mixed bag for Cayman’s professional women.

While the crisis has increased childcare and domestic demands on women, it has also ushered in more flexible working arrangements.

“We will be really interested and hopeful that, through this awful pandemic, it has allowed us to start looking at agile and flexible working, things that will help both men and women,” says Reed.

Feedback to Gender Equality Cayman during the pandemic has also been largely positive. Reed says there has been indication of increased understanding from workplaces about family commitments – and an increased understanding at home about the professional responsibilities of parents.

“I think this has led to sort of a deeper connection at home and there’s been very interesting dinner conversations,” Reed says.

Another positive has been companies reaching out to take the Gender Equality Cayman pledge, which establishes a commitment to creating more equal and inclusive workplaces. Pledge members also have access to unconscious bias training, to further conversations on workplace equality.

For more information on Gender Equality Cayman, visit: genderequality.ky.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now