2020 was not the year any of us planned. Boarded-up bars, cancelled weddings, rising unemployment, and business closures – the global pandemic affected almost every area of life, across every corner of the globe.
But in an economical sense, there’s one group who have been disproportionately affected: women.
This isn’t a competition of suffering – everyone’s felt the effects of the economic downturn. But the specific impact on women in the workplace is deeply concerning, due to its consequences on employment equality – something that took years to achieve.
The TUC are warning that “women will be pushed out of the workforce”, and UK women are 4% more likely than men to have lost their job during the pandemic – for a wide range of reasons. And while that could be written off as a temporary consequence of Covid-19, there is a real concern of regression to ‘traditional living’ when it comes to parenting responsibilities.
If you’re a business owner, know this: keeping your organisation diverse, and keeping it inclusive are two different things. Where diversity comes down to numbers, inclusion is all about personal experience – and with women shown to be more under pressure, especially concerning childcare, that’s something you have to be aware of. That’s why we offer our Diversity and Inclusion solution.
But listening to your employees’ issues isn’t just the right thing to do. It makes business sense, too. Diverse, inclusive workplaces are more likely to have higher profits and productivity and better employee engagement. And there’s more – businesses with above-average diversity are 19% more innovative, a Randstad report estimates a £24 billion boost to the economy if BAME employees progressed as their white colleagues did, and our data shows a link between high inclusion levels and organisational fitness.
Intersectionality is the recognition of layered identities, and how this affects experiences of discrimination – factoring in sex, race, class, age, sexuality and more. A woman will face sexism, but a Black woman will deal with sexism and racism. And a wealthy, privileged woman – though subject to certain disadvantages – won’t suffer in the same way a working class man might.
Again, it’s not a competition, but an understanding of the complexity of discrimination. So you should understand the factors that may affect women in your team during lockdown:
With working from home the ‘new norm’, and schools out for summer since March, parenting became a lot more complex. Juggling conference calls with crying and cuddles is hard, and research shows it’s women who have been carrying the weight. Women got half as many uninterrupted working hours than men, taking on the majority of childcare – over 3.5 hours, compared to less than 2.5 hours.
But it’s not just the time-split. When dads are interrupted by their children, it goes viral – possibly as it’s considered more cute than cringe-worthy, or because it’s simply unexpected. While for women in some industries, such an event would be “career suicide”.
Attitudes need to change, but so do provisions for working women. 46% of women made redundant and 65% of those furloughed blamed a lack of childcare – and 72% had to cut their hours for the same reasons. From disappointing social divisions of labour, to lack of structured childcare support, you need to understand the pressures working women face.
That comes down to two bigger issues. There’s the disproportionate pay gap between minority ethnic and white employees – complicated further by the lower-paid but essential jobs that women of colour are more likely to hold. But there’s also the evidence that people belonging to ethnic minorities are at much more risk from Covid-19.
It’s your responsibility to recognise there are things your employees are concerned about that you may never have imagined – and that there’s usually more than one factor at play.
Women are facing a 1950s-style return to being the default childcarer, despite living in a dual-income household. Women from minority ethnic groups have been hit financially, and are at a greater fear for their lives. And some studies show workers without degrees have been affected too, with 13% of those without a university degree losing their job – 5% less than those with a degree.
This relates to the reality of different industries, of course – many sectors that suffered, like hotels and retail, were already female-dominated. But it’s an important reminder that there’s more than one way someone can face discrimination.
When we looked at over 2000 companies to assess their organisational fitness – resilience to change, and crisis – we found that male and female employees have different sticking points. While under-35s spoke about their pay more than other age groups, women in this group commented on it 1.9 times more than men.
On top of that, women aged 35 to 44 discussed flexible working 1.7 times more than men of the same age group. It wouldn’t take much of a leap to attribute this to people in this age group being more likely to be parents – though it supports the research showing an unfair division of childcare by working parents undertaken during lockdown.
It would be easy to dismiss the economic impact of Covid-19 on women as something out of your control – arguing it’s about social equality more broadly, or legal rights regarding childcare provision. And while there’s some truth to that, it’s a cop out.
Our data identified that women face different problems than men at work – with bigger concerns about pay, and flexible working. By knowing those concerns, you can address them… and as we discussed earlier, it’s the right move from a business perspective.
The most important thing is to listen. Some have cited a positive side of Covid-19 was starting important conversations about working women – shining a light on all workers’ human side, and day-to-day responsibilities, and the need to take that into consideration. This is the perfect opportunity to listen to your employees – and our platform gives you the survey tools and language analysis software to do that properly.