The pandemic has provided an unexpected opportunity to level the playing field when it comes to gender parity and to reimagine 'work' for women, writes Karen Gill, co-founder of everywoman.
Over recent weeks, newly released research by a number of respected bodies has painted a bleak picture of the danger of gender regression resulting from the pandemic. Women, back in the home since lockdown, are bearing the brunt of childcare and housework, thereby running the risk of being stereotyped as a consequence.
Employment figures show that more women than men have been furloughed and a likelihood that women are in greater danger of losing their jobs as the furlough support is wound up, not so surprising when we consider the large numbers of women employed by the worst hit industry sectors of retail and hospitality.
I am deeply concerned that the work that has been done towards achieving more equal female participation in the workplace is in danger of unravelling. Yet I also believe that seismic shifts in the ways we live and work have potential to deliver positive societal benefits.
Levelling the playing field for women?
From everywoman’s perspective, the pandemic has provided an unanticipated levelling of the playing field for many women. Flexible working - previously labelled a 'female' request - ceased to be a gender issue once the majority of the working UK population was working from home, with 90% of both male and female employees saying that they felt trusted by their managers to work productively remotely.
It has been reported that 73% of workers expect remote working to continue and while many will welcome this change, it brings its own set of challenges.
For women, there is a danger of being less visible now we are not physically in an office environment, hampering career progression as a result. While Zoom and other platforms have provided an element of digital equality and glimpses into 'home life', showing our human side, women still need to be invited to join that call.
The importance of virtual connection and networks
During lockdown, our digital platform experienced user uplift as organisations sought to keep employees networked and connected. One financial services business reported a 15% increase in employee engagement, demonstrating the business necessity of networks and how they can help echo company culture.
With many businesses poised to embrace long term flexible working, the importance of relevant, virtual support is further amplified.
Here are some tips to help you ensure connection among all employees:
- Give employees “permission” to log off, whether it’s for a midday dog walk, to run an errand or to pick up children. Support them in knowing they are not required to be “always on”.
- Consider strategies to keep employees visible when they are not physically in the office - this could range from virtual social events through to more structured training and mentoring support.
- Not everyone will have the ideal home working set up. We’d all like a separate space to which we can close the door at the end of the day, but the reality is that many employees are working from the kitchen table. Help them to create the best possible home workspace in terms of physical and mental wellbeing.
- Help employees to establish a routine and set boundaries. Be clear about your working hours and stick to them. Schedule regular breaks and ensure colleagues know your availability.
One of our recent webinars featured Despina Katsikakis, Cushman & Wakefield’s globally renowned expert in transformative business environments. She sees an opportunity for businesses to fundamentally change the way they operate, citing the potential for more localised hubs that keep employees connected to company culture and each other.
With the average UK commute equating to 164 hours a year, she believes both productivity and wellbeing could benefit, coupled with a 45% reduction in carbon footprint.
Reimagining 'work' for women
This presents exciting opportunities to redesign the future, enabling women to reshape the workplace. Satellite offices outside central London will provide opportunities for collaboration, interaction and face to face mentoring, whilst enhancing work life balance.
This in turn presents opportunities for beleaguered high streets, who stand to profit from an influx of workers into these office hubs, benefitting the hard-hit retail, leisure and hospitality industries.
Businesses are resigned to the inevitable economic downturn as a result of the pandemic, but for all the negative headlines and depressing statistics, I see the biggest opportunity in generations to redesign our future and create a more equitable existence.
As Helen Pankhurst, great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, said recently: “Sometimes these massive shifts can be really positive. There is very real danger we will go backwards, but with enough voice and collective demands, there could be a resetting and recalibration”.
Women have a golden opportunity to shape the workplace of the future, one no longer created by men, for men. We can’t go back to normal, because 'normal' was the problem.
Working with leading corporations and organisations, everywoman improves productivity and performance through diversity insights to unlock female potential resulting in economic and societal gain. everywoman.com