As the lockdown restrictions now lift around us, we are left to determine what the new working landscape will look like.
In many ways, the changes that have happened recently will be the most significant upheaval many of us experience in our working lives.
An uncomfortable truth we must now face is the way the pandemic has disproportionately affected women’s careers.
Numerous studies have been conducted into the way Covid-19 has affected our working lives, with findings highlighting once again, the gender divide that remains in business.
In this blog, I will look at the way Covid-19 and the lockdown have impacted on women’s careers and what we can do to combat this and protect women in business in the future.
Childcare – A Women’s Job?
Research carried out by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich during the height of the pandemic shone some light on the way school, and childcare closures were affecting UK households.
During the lockdown, mothers in the UK are providing at least 50% more childcare, as well as 10% to 30% extra time than fathers homeschooling their children, figures show. The shocking part is that the mothers and fathers in this scenario are in the same working situation.
This means that full-time working mothers are spending significantly more time on childcare than men, both of whom are expected to perform to the same level in their jobs. Mothers spend around 6 hours a day with their children, while men in the same situation provide four.
Experts have explained that these results are not down to a sinister or gender discriminatory factor, rather the fact that in times of emergency, women naturally revert to childcare duties over men.
But if this is the biological reality, employers need to be aware of it and make allowances.
As this HBR article points out, over the years, women have become finely-tuned to playing down their parental instincts in the workplace – not displaying family photos, keeping quiet about their children’s lives.
But now the line between work and home has been blurred. At least for employees who will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable. Leaders must use this time to be aware and be vocally positive about the struggles of working parents. Employers must recognise and adapt to the challenges that working parents are facing, offering help and support wherever they can.
The Flexible Working Dichotomy
The pandemic has created a dichotomy when it comes to flexible working.
Many employees are working from home and on a more flexible pattern that ever – surely this is great news for working parents who need to juggle their career with childcare duties now that childcare options are limited (or non-existent).
However, we are yet to see the full effects of the predicted recession on the job market. A recent Mckinsey study on jobs post-Covid found that 7.6 million jobs in the UK are ‘at risk’. (‘Risk’ here is defined as permanent layoffs, temporary furloughs or reduced hours and pay).
When jobs are affected due to the recession, there is a good chance that part-time and flexible options will be foremost affected. This will disproportionally affect women who tend to be employed in these lower-paid, flexible roles.
Employers must ensure that flexible working is something that is carried on after the lockdown to help all valuable employees - not just women - to be able to undertake family duties alongside their job. Fail to do this, and you will lose out on a great number of skilled employees who also happen to be parents.
Colleen Ammerman, director of the Gender Initiative at HBR says employers who are more flexible with their timescales for working parents will reap the benefits. She says:
“By setting reasonable expectations about the amount of time employees can be expected to spend on work, you’ll get exponentially greater engagement”.
What Else Can Employers Do to Champion Women?
So what else can employers do to reduce the disproportionate impact on women’s careers due to lockdown?
Use this time to be extra flexible – job sharing, full-time remote working or coming into the office on certain days, flexible start and finish times – all of these allowances help parents to juggle work and career duties.
Leaders can be more vocal about the difficulties of managing a career and childcare. As I mentioned earlier, women have historically downplayed their roles as mothers in the workplace to avoid stigma. But it is time for this damaging stigma to be erased, and employers must lead by example.
Women tend to get talked over in meetings, and virtual meetings can exacerbate the problem. Make sure a facilitator keeps tabs of who is speaking in meetings and that women get as much of an opportunity to voice their opinion as men. Create a structure where everyone has the same amount of time to speak rather than a ‘jump in’ system.
Despite lockdown restrictions being lifted, issues within the government mean that we cannot expect schools to reopen fully until the Autumn. With childcare resources limited and the potential for lots of working mothers to now be working on reduced hours, or continuing to work with added childcare expectations, going forward, leaders must recognise the danger in losing brilliant parents to the gender divide.
Fail to recognise the importance of creating fair opportunities for both men and women in your organisation, and you risk alienating top female talent.
If you need talented and supportive leaders to champion women and help lead your organisation through the next stage of your business, we can help.
We’ve got over 35 years’ experience recruiting board and senior managerial roles – so get in touch with us today on 01905 381320 or contact us here to find out how we can help you recruit your next leader.
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