IWD 2021 – Is progress for women regressing in the workplace?

Women help with home schoolingA quick glance at what has happened to women in the last year during the global pandemic. Some of this impact is as a result of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. However, the continued systemic inequalities which still persist in our society and working environments are still very relevant.

Women in the labour force

In June 2020, 72% of women aged 16 to 64 are employed, compared to 81% of men in the same age category. They were 5% more likely to have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 than men. 60% of essential workers are women and they comprise 77% of the labour force at high risk of contracting Covid-19. This data is courtesy of Catalyst Research into Women in the Workforce 2020.

‘She-cession’ not recession

Women’s income has been disadvantaged disproportionately over the last year by the pandemic. Their earnings have declined by 12.9%, nearly double the reduction for men. Women are more likely to work in low-paid sectors, or ones which are currently shut down such as retail and hospitality.

The vast majority of single parents in the UK are women and in two-parent families they are more likely to be the second earner. The pandemic has seen women lose significant portions of their income. They have been pushed out of the labour market altogether as they are faced with impossible choices in trying to balance work with full-time caring responsibilities. Unless this is addressed there could be lasting damage to progress towards some gender parity at work.

Women and childcare

Women have also taken on more caring responsibilities during the lockdowns and taken the brunt on managing home schooling. The UK government has failed to address this in any of its pandemic responses. Therefore existing structural inequalities in society are becoming even further entrenched. Childcare should not automatically fall on women’s shoulders. 93% of women who are working with children are struggling during lockdown according to a Think Tank Centre for London report.

Boardroom diversity — still a long way to go

There is still a long way to increase the female participation rate in senior leadership positions to a fair and equitable level. In 2021 there are still only 17 FTSE 350 CEO’s and 39 Board Chairs who are women in the UK. This hasn’t simply happened by accident, but through a combination of the Hampton-Alexander Review’s annual scrutiny and progress monitoring by business and other pressure groups. It is critical that the UK’s efforts on monitoring and review of diversity data in corporate UK continues and is enhanced.  

Women and recruitment

Kessler and Low (2021) found that 90% of firms reported that increasing gender and racial diversity was a factor they considered positively in their hiring. However, their resume ratings suggested otherwise, plus they discovered that female and minority candidates received less credit for the prestigious internships than white males. Kessler and Low recommend that firms need to take a hard look at their hiring processes and face up the fact that they may not be as diversity-loving in practice as they are in intention.

Blaming Imposter Syndrome for biased practice

Tulshyan and Burey (2021) have re-examined the concept of Imposter Syndrome made popular by Clance and Imes (1978). Their latest research blames this label for putting the onus on women to deal with the effects of biased practices across organisations and institutions. Practices which routinely prevent women or individuals from underrepresented groups to thrive at work. They recommend not ‘fixing’ the individual but creating an environment which fosters a variety of leadership styles in with diverse identities, including women are seen as just as professional as the current model, which the photographer Catherine Opie describes as usually ‘Eurocentric, masculine and heteronormative’.

What do we need to do to support women in the next year?

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2021 is a good time to consider and reflect on what next for women in the workplace?

There have been some great positives for women who have found working from home has reduced their travelling time, improved their work life balance and allowed them to spend more time with their families. Plus, it has been a healthy opportunity for men who normally work away from the home full-time to gain an insight into what their partner has to put up with. Hopefully this has improved the male empathy levels in some relationships!

However, the Government, employers and society all need to make changes to address the structural inequalities which were already impacting women’s lives and progress, but during the pandemic have worsened the situation for some women. This is a time to take stock and decide, are we going to slide back into a worse and more unfair world for women? Or move forward and embrace a more caring and equal world that women can thrive in?

We are here to help if you want to develop a more supportive culture for the women working in your organisation. Through mentoring, coaching and culture change programmes we can help you to reduce the inequalities facing your female employees.

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