This coming Monday (8th March) is International Women’s Day, celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. We’ve come a long way in creating a more gender equal world, but there is still a lot of work to be done - in some countries more than others. This isn’t a time for complacency. According to the World Economic Forum, gender parity won’t be achieved for another century, so it’s important that we all continue to play our part for generations to come.
Women in the workplace
Ensuring working environments allow women to thrive in their career, and are supported and respected as equals, is critical for any business that wants to succeed. Gender diversity in the workplace not ensures equal representation of women, but also has a positive impact on the businesses.
Creativity and innovation
Diversity of any kind (whether it’s gender, race, sexual orientation and / or so much more) means your teams and organisation can benefit from a wide range of different viewpoints and approaches that come from people having different life experiences and backgrounds. It has been proven that diverse perspectives and opinions can help to boost creativity and innovation, creating new opportunities for people and businesses alike.
With increased diversity comes more inclusive cultures, which in turn can help develop more positive working environments and improved employee retention. Employing more women, especially in senior positions, creates less gender discrimination throughout the whole employment process and helps position leadership positions as more accessible to other women within the company.
According to a study by the Center for Creative Leadership, more women in the workplace means higher job satisfaction. The study found that there was ‘higher organisational dedication, more meaningful work and less burnout’ within businesses with a more gender-balanced workforce. In turn, this led to employees enjoying their work more and feeling as though they have opportunities to make a difference.
The effects of Covid on women in the workplace
Female employment has been on the rise over the past few decades. According to Catalyst, over 72% of women aged 16-64 are in employment (June 2020) compared to almost 53% 50 years ago (March 1971) when the Office for National Statistics first began reporting this data.
Whilst we’ve made good progress over the past few decades in terms of gender equality in the workplace, we’re at severe risk of losing this due to the significant economic and health risks that women are facing due to the pandemic.
Furlough and unemployment
There has been a disproportionate increase in women’s unemployment in comparison to men since the start of the pandemic. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, mothers are 1.5 times more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs or quit since the pandemic hit the UK.
And women are also more likely to have decreased their overall working time, whether through the furlough scheme or reduced hours, with 15% of mothers reporting they had to take unpaid leave for school closures or sick children, compared to only 8% of fathers.
Furthermore, those industries hit hardest by covid, such as retail and hospitality, employ more women on average, with women a third more likely to work in a sector that was shut down by coronavirus than men.
Inequality at home
As we all spent more time at home and schools closed, the burden of care has increased for everyone, however it is women that are carrying out the majority of that work. And this is on top of the fact that women already spent three times more hours on domestic and care work than men.
According to the UN Women report, ‘Whose time to care’, in most countries, women are now spending 30+ hours every week solely on childcare; for working mothers, this means having to balance full-time work with childcare and homeschooling responsibilities. And, since the start of the pandemic, 28% of women and 16% of men say that the intensity of their domestic work has increased.
To help support our colleagues, both female and male, we introduced additional ‘covid leave’ which colleagues can take for caring duties, whether that’s looking after sick family members or homeschooling children. And as part of the furlough scheme, flexible furlough was also offered to better support colleagues balance work and home. This is all alongside our usual flexible working options so that our colleagues and their families are supported in their paid and unpaid working roles.
As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we spoke to Sarah Martin, CEO of Unify Energy, who strongly believes in supporting colleagues through flexibility. “I’m a big believer in flexibility and there’s so much that people will naturally want to contribute and give if they’re the right people for those roles. But they have a life and they have families and they shouldn’t have to choose,” Sarah says. “Our whole mantra and organisational structure at Unify Energy is come be part of a great team and do great things but you don’t need to sacrifice the other great things to do that. We really live and breathe that, it’s helped men and women in the team to manage those commitments that they’ve had during the pandemic and a lot of those have been heightened.”
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Choose to Challenge; ‘a challenged world is an alert world’, it states. If we are to create a truly inclusive world, choosing to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality is everyone’s job. It is only by challenging our own beliefs - and the beliefs of others - that we can bring about real change for a fairer, more equal society.
This will be vital if we are to ensure that the impact of Covid on women does not cause further setbacks in the mission for gender parity. It is down to us all, as individuals, businesses, organisations and the public and private sector to come together and ensure that women are not disproportionately affected as we recover from the pandemic and steps are taken to support all of those whose working lives have been impacted.
Creating a diverse and inclusive culture is something that we’ve been working on as a business way before the pandemic. Our ambition to be a truly diverse and inclusive workplace is driven by our diversity and inclusion agenda, covering all aspects of the business from our people practices through to supporting a changing mindset. This will continue to be vitally important as we work our way out of the pandemic and into recovery, ensuring that our working environment and culture supports all of our colleagues and future workforce.