Women in Work Index 2021

The impact of Covid-19 on women in work


While the pace of progress towards gender equality across the OECD remains slow, the negative impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic are disproportionately being felt by women and threaten to reverse the important gains that have been made in the last decade.

Women’s jobs are being significantly impacted by Covid-19 because of existing gender inequalities in society, and the disruptive impact of the pandemic on service sectors with high levels of female employment. The unemployment rate rose across the OECD in 2020, with women losing their jobs at a faster rate than men. Covid-19 is also amplifying the unequal burden of unpaid care and domestic work carried by women. Caring responsibilities have already caused more women than men to exit the workforce. The longer this higher care burden on women lasts, the more likely women are to leave the labor market permanently - not only reversing progress towards gender equality, but also stunting economic growth.

If no action is taken, it may not be possible to fully repair this damage, or ‘catch up’ to the path towards gender equality that existed before the pandemic. Our scenario analysis shows that the OECD needs progress to be twice as fast as its historical rate if it is to completely recover by 2030.


In this video, PwC's Petra Raspels and Strategy&'s Dr. Peter Gassmann comment on the findings of our #WomenInWork Index 2021 and share what we can learn from Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden.

Key findings

Before the pandemic, gradual progress was being made across the OECD to advance gender equality in work.

  • In 2019, Iceland and Sweden retained their place as the top two performing OECD countries on the Women in Work Index, with New Zealand moving into third place.
  • Luxembourg has made the greatest improvement in its ranking since 2000, while the United States has seen the largest decline.
  • Switzerland's position was 13th (out of 33) on the Index, with a decline from 2018 to 2019 below the OECD average.
Index score comparison G7 countries (2019)

Select a territory and year to explore the data further

Working together to promote gender equality in work

1. Actively assess the gender equality impacts of all policies

Undertake gender budgeting and equality impact assessments to ensure policies better protect women and other marginal groups in the labour market and do not put them at a greater disadvantage. This will help inform fairer and more effective policy responses to the recovery from Covid-19 and future crises.

2. Empower women to participate optimally in the labour market by addressing underlying societal gender inequalities

Governments, policymakers and businesses should focus on recognising the enormous value of the unpaid care work done by women, and on taking action to reduce women’s burden of unpaid care through policies such as shared paid parental leave, affordable access to childcare, and flexible working options for both women and men.

3. Take action to stop the pandemic from widening already significant gender pay gaps

If women leave the labour market or reduce their working hours due to Covid-19, particularly those in higher paid corporate roles, then existing gender pay gaps may widen. Governments, policymakers and businesses need to take action to close gender pay gaps through mandating gender pay gap reporting, compensating women’s and men’s work equally across (as well as within) industries, and implementing effective gender action plans in the workplace to support and empower progression and promotion of women.

4. Fund employment and business opportunities for women in future growth sectors of the economy

If the recovery from Covid-19 is to meaningfully support and empower women in the labour market, they need to be able to access productive, fulfilling, sustainable, and well paid jobs. These opportunities exist in high growth sectors. Governments, policymakers, and businesses therefore need to focus on retraining and upskilling women to access jobs in growth areas such as digital, AI, renewable energy and the Green Economy. Financial support schemes for female entrepreneurs and female-led start-ups in these sectors will also provide large gains to women’s economic empowerment and increase productivity of the economy. This will help to establish the necessary conditions for progress towards gender parity in the longer term.

Contact us

Albert Zimmermann

Albert Zimmermann

Partner, Strategy& Germany