As Australia looks towards pandemic recovery, it’s time to put women at the heart of our agenda to advance economic empowerment. Now is the time re-write gender inequalities that have existed for too long.
Over the last few decades, research has repeatedly shown that supporting women and unlocking their entrepreneurial potential is crucial to building a resilient and healthy society. By focusing on girls and women, businesses and governments can spur economic progress, expand markets, and improve health and education outcomes for everyone.
While Australia has made progress creating equal opportunities for women, COVID-19 has had harsh impacts across communities and economies. This is also why the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – Choose To Challenge – is particularly relevant, which invites us to challenge and call out gender bias and unequal treatment.
Last year we partnered with several institutions to study gender equality at home and work during COVID-19 with inputs from the World Bank Group, UN Women, Ladysmith Collective, and EqualMeasures2030. More than 460,000 people on Facebook in over 200 countries completed the survey, which resulted in a first-of-its-kind snapshot of women and men’s access to resources, their time spent on unpaid care work, and their attitudes about equality.
These insights give us both reason to worry and reason to hope. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women all over the world – with research in Australia showing 35 per-cent of women expressed concerns about the future of their jobs. The research also showed, women were more likely to shoulder the responsibility to care for their family, more likely to lose their jobs or have their pay cut, and more likely to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious.
This was further confirmed by our Global State of Small Business study, in partnership with the World Bank and the OECD which showed that women-owned small-medium businesses were more likely to report that they were closed due to COVID-19, even when taking into consideration factors such as the size of business, sector, and geography. In Australia, 28 per-cent of all female business leaders stated they worked 6 or more hours per day on domestic responsibilities, compared to only 8 per-cent of males.
In Woonona, NSW, Casey Allen’s business Chasing Case grew three times larger overnight with online sales soaring last year, but she also had to look after her daughter at home, while her husband worked full-time. Despite this, Casey showed incredible resilience, and her business continued to grow while she managed those two priorities. As a result, she was able to hire 2 women from the area and offered them flexible working arrangements to help them balance their work and family commitments.
In our research we also found that female business leaders showed a greater flexibility in their business models, and more likely to make sales through digital channels. Tara Baker & Arlia Hassell, a couple who co-own the digital magazine Dancing With Her, which started as an Instagram account. The community quickly grew to over 230,000 people which led them to create the digital magazine of the same name, plus an inclusivity consultancy for the wedding industry.
Digital fluency and connectivity can also smash barriers that stop unemployed women from pursuing careers or starting businesses. Being able to work from home and set our own working hours means that more women would be able to join the workforce.
A great example of this is Kerry Ridley, who owns My Little Bookshop, a portable book store in a retro 22-foot caravan, which travels to communities across regional Western Australia and sells books to eager readers. To ensure she had customers, Kerry turned to Instagram as a way to find the people who would engage with her business in these new areas, even before she arrived. The strategy paid off, with her sales increasing by 50 per-cent which allowed her to expand My Little Bookshop’s fleet to three roving caravans.
There are many more stories like these, among the 200 million businesses on our platforms. These stories show that economic empowerment provides lasting benefits to communities. I firmly believe that supporting women and unlocking their potential will create a more resilient, inclusive, and equal society. This is why we will continue to invest deeply into the tools and programs that provide women with a world of opportunities to connect, learn and grow.