2021: The great leveller for women in the workplace

gender equalityIs this the year where women can finally crack the glass ceiling and take advantage of the same work opportunities as men?

Emma Maslen explores.

A new digital workplace

Over the previous year, the UK has witnessed a steep rise in the number of people working from home, with a recent survey suggesting as much as 86 percent of workers have utilised their personal office during the pandemic. Globally, firms have been forced to adapt to their employees working remotely and have had to manage their workloads around multiple lockdowns and social distancing.

These changes have altered the workplace landscape for the majority of individuals, but it is worth pointing out how it is specifically impacting professional women. The shift to an all digital “office” experience has in many ways helped to level the playing field, most notably for those women who find themselves in a position of child or family care. Working from home offers flexibility, which can allow for frequent breaks to tend to the wellbeing of their family, while never being too far from their ability to be productive. Work hours don’t have to be exactly 9 to 5, but can often be flexed around all parts of the day.

Possible concerns over the new normal

It has been pointed out by some that the overall strain that this pandemic has put on many businesses has perhaps actually limited access to the relatively few opportunities that had even existed before. Detractors worry that there will be less hiring, less promotion, less overall turnover, so how is there now more room to get ahead? Another complaint towards the modern working situation is that despite being more flexible, it also leads to a sense of being “always on.” This certainly goes beyond gender, but can absolutely have a harsh psychological impact on parents or those with other household obligations.

More optimistically, many feel that it is exactly because of this shift towards both digital workspaces, as well as changes in culture, that could overcome the current limitations in the long run, and allow for 2021 and beyond to be a time where women truly can break the glass ceiling.

Growing inclusivity

As mentioned, working from home offers flexibility and autonomy, which could be attractive to working mothers and women tasked with family care. This stands to not only be a convenience to those who already have a career and family on their plate, but means women don’t need to choose between one or the other. Plus, time previously spent on commuting or traveling on-site can now be replaced by quality time with the family.

Furthermore, the digital landscape stands to help bring in a new type of “meritocracy” to much of the work being done. If a woman can deliver quality work on time, while tending to their family simultaneously, what concern is it of their employer?

Even inside the home, this shift in perspective could bring some levelling to the landscape of relationship dynamics. The idea of one partner being homemaker while the other leaves to work has far less meaning if both partners are working from home anyway. This will hopefully help encourage behaviors that see both partners, regardless of gender, taking on a more even amount of homecare, while still working to generate income. This balanced support is what many proponents feel will smooth out the constant desire for modern professionals to be constantly in work mode.

Lastly, a growing rise in programmes that enable inclusivity should mean that women have a more equally weighted voice inside of their organisation. Setting up inclusive forums where women can voice their ideas, concerns, and find support and acceptance is essential for more productive conversations. These forums should of course not be limited to women, but simply be a space where male-dominated opinions aren’t the only narratives being entertained.

A new balance in the technology industry

Currently, the technology industry is heavily male-dominated, with only 16.4 percent female employees represented in the UK. Traditionally, most companies have been slow in carrying out initiatives that establish diversity forums like the one outlined above. It has, however, been observed that the global crisis may be greatly accelerating developments across both of these areas.

The growing demand for digital jobs should ensure that “hard skills” like coding and user interface design won’t be going anywhere soon, and initiatives encouraging young women towards these fields are being increasingly embraced. We are also likely to see a greater call for employees with “soft skills,” such as collaboration and emotional intelligence. By encouraging the development of proficiency across a variety of skill-sets and eliminating cultural aversions to outdated gender roles, women stand to perhaps benefit the most, but all employees would likely find their work relationships becoming healthier.

There is no denying we have many obstacles still ahead of us, but we’ve also never had a time of such opportunity. The challenges affecting the workplace and the technology industry have really only begun, so there has never been a better time to lean into change. If employers continue to accept these new points of view, then professional women have a lot to be optimistic about in 2021.

About the author

Emma MaslenEmma Maslen has recently been appointed as the Vice President and General Manager at Ping Identity for the EMEA and APAC region. She is a senior technology leader who has 20 plus years of experience in the industry. Prior to which she has worked for multiple big names in technology like SAP Concur, BMC Software and Sun Microsystems in business management and commercial sales roles.

Emma is also an adviser to startups and an angel investor since the past three years, often through the female founder network Angel Academe, she has a portfolio of eight companies. She is working as an ambassador for Tech London Advocates for their ‘women in tech’ initiative.


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