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First-person perspectives on the world of work
Photo: Marcel Crozet / ILO

The Future of Work Podcast

Episode 10
Equality and diversity

The future is already here

30 September 2021
00:00

What has been the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women or migrant workers? Have we taken a step back on the progress made in recent years in terms of inclusion? What is the ILO doing about it? Can remote work help people with disabilities? Are algorithms more biased than humans?

“The future is already here. If we don’t tackle the already existing inequalities, they will only be exacerbated by the rapid pace of change we are seeing in the world of work,” says Chidi King, new head of the Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Branch (GEDI) of the ILO.

In the ILO's podcast on the future of work, she takes stock of the pandemic's impact on equality and inclusion policies and discusses future challenges facing the most vulnerable populations.  

Transcript

Hello, and welcome to this edition of the ILO's Future of Work podcast.

I'm Isabel Piquer at the ILO in Geneva.

Today, we are going to talk about gender equality and inclusion,

particularly now in these times of COVID.

Our guest today is Chidi King, head of the Gender, Equality, Diversity,

and Inclusion branch of the ILO.

-Hi, Chidi. -Hello.

We will organize the interview around three main topics.

First, we will discuss the effects of the pandemic

on the most vulnerable population.

Then we'll look at what exactly the ILO is doing to promote equality

and inclusion in the world of work, and then we will talk

about the challenges that lie ahead in view of the profound changes

that already taking place in the world of work.

Let's start with the pandemic.

It seems that, once again, vulnerable populations

have paid the price of this crisis.

This has been particularly true for women.

Have we really taken a step back as all the reports seem to indicate?

Unfortunately, I would have to say yes in response to that.

All the data and indications that we have show

that women have suffered disproportionately, once again,

as a result of both the health and the socioeconomic consequences

of the pandemic.

To give a concrete example, we know that 4.2% of women's employment

was destroyed as a result of the pandemic.

This compares with 3% of men's employment.

This is because of a combination of factors.

One being that, due to this persistent gender-based occupational segregation,

and that we have women were overrepresented

in some of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy, for example,

in hotel and tourism, in textile and garment global supply chains,

and other supply chains which were very severely

negatively impacted by the economic shutdown

that came as a result of the lockdowns put in place to contain the virus.

Of course, we've seen that women are not a homogenous group.

Women who were fairing particularly poorly,

pre-pandemic, linked to discrimination on the grounds of factors such as race,

ethnicity, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation,

and, of course, the socioeconomic status, have certainly seen

their situation deteriorate further.

All of this points to the really urgent need

to tackle these structural barriers that have been in place for so long,

and that have really hampered the goal of achieving

gender equality and equity.

It's not only women who have been deeply impacted

by the pandemic, also migrant workers who represent 4.7%

of the global labor pool, approximately 164 million workers?

They certainly have.

Again, this is largely because of the structural factors

that I was pointing to, including discrimination in labor markets,

including what we would refer to as decent work deficits.

So not having adequate social protection, not having secure employment,

not having a predictable income, not having access to things

such as maternal protection and benefits.

Since most migrant workers are found in sectors of the economy

with high levels of temporary, informal, and unprotected work,

including in care worked, in which many countries

are primarily carried out by women, right?

Of course, migrant workers are very often in a precarious situation

in relation to their status in a particular country.

If, for example, your work permit is linked to a particular job

and that job disappeared during the pandemic,

then you can see, very easily, how your situation becomes

even more precarious, and how you may even become stranded

because your situation in the country is no longer regular,

through nothing that you have done, but just as a consequence

of an external factor such as the pandemic.

Yet, at the same time, we were seeing just how crucial migrant workers

were to our economies, particularly in industrialized economies.

We know, and we saw, during the pandemic, that migrant workers

are very often the backbone of these economies.

Working in sectors such as health and care,

working as domestic workers, working as cleaners,

working as sanitation.

Providing sanitation services, working in food retail.

All of those services which proved to be so essential or have proven

to be so essential throughout this pandemic,

see an over-representation of migrant workers.

Yet they find themselves in some of the most vulnerable employment

and work situations.

Again, this gives an indication of the urgency to eradicate inequalities,

particularly in our macroeconomic systems.

The pandemic has really made things worse.

Let's see now what can be done. What can we do?

Isabel, maybe I can start by explaining that the ILO is a UN agency.

Of course, it is unique in the sense

that it is the only tripartite UN agency bringing together governments, workers,

employers' organizations, and workers' organizations.

These constituents of the ILO come together to both elaborate

policy solutions to challenges that we face in the world of work,

and also to put in place legal frameworks to guide our world of work.

The global community has pledged to leave no one behind

when adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It all sounds very commendable, very well, but what is the ILO doing exactly

to ensure that?

Just before the pandemic hit in 2019, the ILO was celebrating 100 years

of the International Labor Conference.

At that conference, there were two particular documents

that the ILO constituents were working on.

One was a Centenary Declaration, so, a forward-looking declaration.

What was the future of our world of work going to look like?

Of course, at the time, we weren't envisaging

that just a year later, a global health pandemic

with such significant socioeconomic fallouts

was going to be upon us.

The constituents elaborated this Centenary Declaration.

Part of that was calling for a transformative agenda

for gender equality to accelerate

the results, which have been insufficient,

to date, in this area.

The second document or set of documents that were adopted, that were worked on,

negotiated during this particular conference,

were legal instruments.

It was a legal framework to ensure that we can finally start to address

and put an end to violence and harassment in the world of work.

Of course, this has a particular gender dimension,

which is reflected in the instruments.

The instruments also recognize that vulnerable populations,

such as those we've spoken of earlier, are particularly badly affected

by violence and harassment in our world of work.

Coming out of this Centenary Declaration, of course,

a year later we saw the pandemic.

Earlier this year, the ILO's constituents, workers, employers, governments, again,

adopted a global call to action for human-centered recovery

to the pandemic.

This outlines a comprehensive agenda, committing countries to ensuring

that their economic and social recovery is fully inclusive, sustainable,

and resilient and that it does place gender equality at its heart.

How can we translate these goals of gender equality

and promoting inclusive and sustainable growth

in the day-to-day life, in the life of the businesses of workers?

Give me some concrete examples.

The convention that I just talked about is one very concrete example,

Convention 190 and its accompanying recommendation.

That's how the ILO works in terms of setting law.

The conventions are binding legal documents

once they're adopted and ratified by countries, and recommendations

give supplementary guidance on how the conventions

should be implemented.

This is quite an innovative convention, and it protects all workers irrespective

of their contractual status.

It also protects workers, whether they're working in rural

or urban areas, whether they are actually job seekers.

Whether they're about to enter the workforce

or haven't quite entered it yet.

Whether they retired from the workforce, so, it's quite all-encompassing.

It really looks at the world of work as being beyond just a physical building,

for instance, such as an office or a factory.

It recognizes that public spaces can be places of work,

particularly for workers in the informal economy.

Again, for many women, we know that the informal economy

is where they are to be found working.

The fact that this convention recognizes the specificities of gender-based violence

and harassment and that particular measures

need to be taken to address that, that it recognizes the fact

that groups vulnerable to discrimination and inequality are likely

to be more exposed to violence and harassment.

That places such as the home, for instance, where many are teleworking,

or where many may be working as home-based workers, indeed,

in global supply chains, are also part of our world of work

and areas in which violence and harassment need to be eradicated,

a very concrete step

towards advancing towards gender equality.

Because whilst gender-based violence and harassment, in particular,

continues to exist, we cannot achieve gender equality,

or indeed, decent work for women.

Yes, and it seems that the future that awaits us, are already here,

it's not going to make things easier.

It looks sometimes a little scary because COVID has brought up

disruptive changes, but they are by no means

the only one we're going to face in the future.

We're talking about remote work, or e-commerce, or automation,

I think they can bring lot of good changes,

but also a lot of challenges.

Let's not forget, of course,

-the looming climate emergency, -Absolutely.

whilst of course ensuring just transition for workers.

If we're not addressing the already existing inequalities

that we all recognize, then these are only going

to be further exacerbated by the rapid pace of change.

This is part of what the ILO Centenary Declaration,

and indeed, the COVID-19 call to action

are meant to address.

If we're not confronting these challenges, head-on,

if we're not putting in place the right frameworks,

whether it's the legal frameworks, the policy interventions,

including enabling women, whether it's through

their employers' organizations, or through their workers' organizations

to have a real voice in crafting the way

our future world of work, which is now—

It has to be said, the future is really--

-We're already there. -Exactly, we're already there.

If they're not having a real say in crafting this world of work,

then these challenges certainly are only going to persist and get worse.

The world of work indeed will get worse for everybody,

for employers and workers alike because where discrimination is embedded,

everyone ultimately suffers.

There's a lot of talk, of course, about remote work.

This can bring many benefits.

It can also bring some risks that we need to be alert to.

With women, very often we hear it said that "Oh, this provides

a wonderful opportunity to balance your work

and your family responsibilities."

Ignoring, of course, that actually, those family responsibilities

are also work. Unpaid work, granted, but also work.

The toll that this also takes when we don't build into our policies

when we don't build into our workplace planning,

when we don't have a proper dialogue that ensures that issues

are addressed correctly, that it brings with it all kinds of risks,

including psychosocial risks, a higher burden of stress,

a higher risk of mental illness and mental breakdowns, and so on.

Let's not forget that for many, remote working,

teleworking is really just not an option because the kinds of jobs that workers

are engaged in do not allow for remote work.

It's care workers who have been very much in the vanguard

of addressing the pandemic, whether it's our workers

in the informal economy, whether it's our workers

in the agricultural sector who have made sure that we're all able

to keep putting food on our table, remote work is just not an option.

Ensuring decent work for these workers, ensuring that they have democracy

in their places of work, ensuring that they have

adequate social protection and labor protections, is absolutely key.

That's something that doesn't change regardless of the rapidly changing nature

of our world of work.

Yes, we've discovered that machines can discriminate as much or worse

than people because sometimes, algorithms can also discriminate

against women or minorities

in a way that people already did,

-but more efficient and terrible. -Absolutely.

This is an area that the ILO is certainly turning its focus to,

seeing that the biases that already exist in our world of work,

those ingrained inequalities,

and discriminatory factors

that we've talked about already.

Of course, when developing algorithms are quite often built

into those algorithms, deepening discrimination,

and inequalities, and we've seen this along the lines of race.

Particular, we've seen it along the lines of gender as well,

that, very often when these codes are written, they're written

with a particular person in mind.

That person very often tends to be a White,

middle-class, male person.

Yes, absolutely.

I'd like to talk about persons with disabilities.

I think we don't talk enough about them generally,

that 15% of the world population,

they've also been deeply impacted by the pandemic.

They already face marginalization as well as a limitation

by public services to reach them.

Do you think that the use of technology, particularly teleworking,

can offer them new possibilities?

Because I remember we published an article, not so long ago,

about a person with disability, and he said that, thanks to remote work,

he had found new opportunities of working.

Is this future of work going to be worse or better,

or maybe we don't know yet?

I think it's certainly, technology can be quite instrumental

in improving the lives, and particularly the access

to labor markets of persons with disabilities.

Teleworking can be a good option for some persons with disabilities,

but it's not a panacea, and it's certainly not the only solution.

Those factors that I mentioned earlier, the relating to the decent work agenda,

again, absolutely critical.

We need to be conscious of issues such as the need to ensure-

just as you would need to,

if the worker were in an office setting,

for instance, or factory, again, you would need to ensure

that reasonable accommodations or adaptations were in place.

You would need to ensure that a worker with a disability

working from home, teleworking, has reasonable adaptations

and accommodations in place to allow them to perform their work safely,

securely, and productively.

We need to be aware of some of the risks as well,

risk factors that might come into play such as isolation.

This can already be aggravated for persons with certain types of disabilities.

Again, if you're teleworking and not having daily contact

or in an environment with other people, the risks of isolation

can worsen psychosocial risks.

Again, can be part of the fallout of that isolation.

We need to be alert and conscious and mitigate those risks,

whilst all the while looking at how we can make telework

a decent work option for persons with disabilities.

Again, we need to remember that, for many developing economies

where most persons with disabilities are trying to eke a living

in the informal economy, telework is just not an option.

Again, concerted efforts to ensure that persons with disabilities

are actually part of the socioeconomic response

and to the health response, indeed, of the pandemic, are absolutely crucial.

The ILO's call to action, I think, is again geared towards ensuring this.

What we're seeing, unfortunately, is that, in most of the data collection efforts

that are being made to assess the impact of the pandemic,

we're not seeing data being desegregated by disability yet.

We really do need some further concerted efforts

in this area, so that the right frameworks,

the right policies, the right interventions

with the voice of workers with disabilities,

are actually crafted and put in place.

There's still a lot, a lot of work ahead of us.

Chidi, thank you very much for your time.

Our guest today was Chidi King, head of the Gender, Equality, Diversity,

and Inclusion branch of the ILO.

Please join us soon for another edition of the ILO Future of Work podcast.

Goodbye.