by Fiona Vaughan, Operations Executive at The Pudding
We need to focus on how leaders have an opportunity to demonstrate a sense of purpose through gender equality. Gender equality refers to when people of all genders have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities – women, men, trans and gender diverse people, children and families.
When focusing on gender equality leaders should particularly look at how things have changed as a result of Covid-19 and seriously consider if they have the appetite to lead the way when it comes to gender equality. Is it a high priority or just a tick the box exercise for your organisation?
From Covid Payments to Overworked
Unesco has reported that over 1.5 billion children across the world have been affected by school closures. In many cases the childcare and homeschooling impact of Covid-19 has fallen to women to balance, alongside their new working from home commitments. Studies conducted by The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that British mothers are combining “paid work with other activities – almost always childcare – in 47% of their work hours, compared with 30% of fathers’ work hours”. Additional research by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich showed that working women in the UK, Germany and the US did more childcare and home-schooling across all pay brackets, compared to men with similar earnings.
Increased childcare responsibilities aren’t the only thing creating challenges for women. Industries in which women are disproportionately represented, for example hospitality, leisure and beauty have been hit hardest by the pandemic. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these accounted for 7.7 million of the 20.5 million jobs lost in the US in April. While many of the industries are re-opening again, extended periods out of work, health concerns or changing consumer behaviours may mean a slower recovery for women in these sectors.
The impact on diversity in the workplace
So what are the potential implications for someone (male or female) in this situation? They may have to take time off to care for children or elderly relatives, or simply lose out on work opportunities as they struggle to balance work with caring responsibilities. Betsey Stevenson, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan says: “we could have an entire generation of women who are impacted. They may spend a significant amount of time out of the workforce, or their careers could just peter out in terms of promotions.” Furthermore, we know that people who leave the workforce to care for their children (even in less uncertain times) often have a harder time breaking back in.
Are you leading or following?
It will be up to you as an employer and to society at large to ensure that this pandemic does not mark a significant step back in gender equality for both women and men who find themselves in this type of situation. The flexible working arrangements which have been put in place since March may have to continue in order to support working parents. How has your organisation responded and engaged with your people on this issue? Have you engaged in an open collaborative way or implemented a policy? This is a key question for every leader to answer and take action on.
Staggered shifts, working from home or short-time working are all options that may help women and men to manage their responsibilities better. Now is our chance to build a more gender equal society – in the workplace and in the home – which allows both women and men to thrive equally.