In 2021, women don’t believe they’re entitled to equality

International Women's Day 2021 Equality

A reality check on the world we live in on IWD 2021

It’s International Women’s Day again – the one day a year when we check in on women. And the last year has been particularly bad. New research from the Female Lead led by Cambridge University psychologist Dr Terri Apter, has uncovered a phenomenon called Unentitled Mindset. It shows that women are conditioned to expect less when it comes to equality at work and home. Instead, true equality remains something we have to justify. The report found that women saw (paid) work as fundamental to their sense of self and purpose – but also that financial independence was key to their power in relationships. This may suggest that part of women’s motivation when it comes to paid work and financial independence is to prove that they are deserving of equality. But it would be wrong to blame women for this perception.

The Unentitled Mindset is something women are conditioned with. It’s created and reinforced by the world we live in, and the norms we do battle with every day. This post looks at unpaid work across the OECD today, showing how consistently half the population are sent the message that unpaid work is their problem, not their partner’s. It’s time to close the entitlement gap. Buckle up.

Do women have equality of access to paid work?

While women participate in the workforce at similar levels to men (British employment data shows that overall 72% of women and 80% of men actively participate in the labour market), this doesn’t tell the whole story. Because women are more likely to be under-employed than men. Women are over-represented in part time work (36% of women and 11% men), and are more likely to work zero-hour contracts or be self-employed.

“A persistent problem that women face in their careers, this toxic internalised bias leads to a lack of confidence at work, especially in negotiating pay increases, asking for flexibility and promotion.  Many women in the study described this as a mindset where they were unsure whether they deserved better conditions. As Dr Terri Apter puts it:

“They knew they were worth more, in terms of pay and flexibility, but they felt unsure of their claim.””

Women at work: Breaking free of the Unentitled Mindset

Why do women work fewer (paid) hours than men?

It turns out that paid work is not the only work that keeps the world running. Every household involves work, from as little as 15 hours a week for 1-2 adult households to over 100 hours a week for households with children. This work is not optional.

We need to eat (and importantly, feed our children).

We need to keep our living spaces healthy and hygienic.

We need to keep our clothes and bodies clean.

We need to pay our bills, manage spending, debt and financial commitments.

Children, pets and often elders need our help.

All of it is work.

The trouble is that unpaid work is both foundational to capitalism, but it’s uneconomic to pay for the work (primarily) women do for free. Socially, economically, politically and personally, we don’t value this work equally with other forms – and we’re taught not to.

Once you know about the ‘unentitled mindset’, you will see it everywhere – from ‘manspreading’ on the train, to women’s unequal domestic load, and in the huge amount of unpaid female work globally

Women at work: Breaking free of the Unentitled Mindset

But more crucially, doing this work prevents women’s equal participation in the paid workforce.

What is happening with men and women’s workloads?

Time is not a limitless resource. There are only 24 hours in the day, and our access to work is constrained by the number of hours we have available. This simple fact is why women’s workforce participation is lower than men’s.

From national time use studies we can see that women do more unpaid work in every OECD country (30 countries in total). The biggest gap in unpaid workloads is in Turkey, where women do nearly 4 hours more unpaid work per day than men.

Source: OECD Stat

Women also work more total hours in 84% of OECD countries. There are only 5 OECD countries (representing 16%) where men work more total hours per day than women on average. In every one of these countries, women still do the overwhelming majority of unpaid work, and the difference in total work hours is primarily drive by long paid work hours for men. Mexico has the longest work hours overall – but women spend 3 hours and 20 mins more on unpaid work per day than men.

Source: OECD Stat

But it’s getting better over time, right?

If we look at how paid and unpaid workloads have changed over time in the last 40 years, we can see some (minor) signs of progress – women are doing more paid work (especially higher earners), men are doing more unpaid work. But in 40 years we haven’t closed the gap much. If we look not only at population-wide data, but also different socio-economic groups, we can see that high-earning women spend significantly more time in paid work but have only reduced their unpaid work slightly.

But if we look at all women, and all men, we see the key point. Women, overall, are working more – more paid work, more unpaid work. And this is not just about women who didn’t work previously joining the workforce. Because if we look at employed women from the seventies to present day, we can see they are just doing more across the board. While men, overall, are doing more unpaid work, but less paid.

Men may have taken on more unpaid work since 1975, but we’ve stopped far short of equality. If we look at how this changed over time, most of the increase in men’s unpaid work occurred in the eighties and nineties – the same period during which women started to increase their paid work – but has flatlined since. Progress has stalled.

Source: Resolution Foundation

Coronavirus is reversing gender pay gap gains

As lockdowns and pandemic-related loss of access to childcare, jobs and services is creating an even deeper economic and social crisis, studies show women are bearing the brunt. But this issue pre-dates COVID-19. What has changed in the last year, is that the support services that made it possible for two workers to have children and careers have fallen away. But instead of sharing the impact of that loss equally, women have been more heavily affected:

  • Women took on 78% more childcare than men during the first lockdown (ONS 2020)
  • 79% of mothers say that responsibility for home schooling falls largely to them (Mumsnet 2021)
  • 7 in 10 requests for furlough from working mothers have been denied by their employer (TUC 2020)
  • 25% of mothers have used annual leave to manage their childcare (TUC 2020)
  • 13% of mothers in the US stopped working due to childcare issues. Compared with 3% of fathers. (US Census Bureau 2020)

While there are signs that this crisis is making the unpaid workload more visible to men, this alone is not enough to create meaningful change.

Women’s unpaid workload is a global economic crisis – with an upside

If women were paid for all the work they do, the global growth potential is enormous. In 2019 Oxfam calculated the economic value of women’s unpaid work globally (if it were paid at the rate of a national minimum wage or living wage), to be worth $10.9 trillion. That’s 13% of global GDP and makes women’s unpaid work the 4th largest global economy.

Significant economic benefits would be delivered by more equal access to paid work and closing the gender pay gap, as found by a new Women in Work Index from PWC. The report says that by increasing women’s employment rates to match those of Sweden, OECD GDP would increase by $6 trillion. By closing the average OECD gender pay gap of 15%, we would see a further $2 trillion GDP increase.

So, that’s depressing. What do we do now?

There’s still significant inequality at home and at work, and the norms in every country across the OECD reinforce that inequality, becoming part of the conditioning that perpetuates the problem. Women’s response to this conditioning – feeling the need to prove our right to equality and to have power in our relationships – is a rational response. It’s time we started focusing on the cause, and stopped blaming women for the effect.

One of the biggest barriers to addressing gender inequality at home and at work is demonstrating that it’s worth doing – because unfortunately, too many people still need to be convinced. But there is significant benefit for everyone if we can create a level playing field for women.

It’s time to start taking action. The first step is to close the entitlement gap and stop making women justify their right to equality.

Ready to start creating equality in your home?

Knowledge is power – the first step to solving the problem is understanding it. Take the ThirdShift Quiz to start understanding what your work is worth.