Reversing the impact of Covid-19 on the female workforce

Tired, Overworked Female Financier Holds Her Head in Hands while Working on a Personal ComputerCovid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have had a detrimental effect on the female workforce.

Women are taking on more hours at work, more care duties, more household responsibility, and more of the mental load, but are still more likely to be furloughed or become unemployed.

Prior to Covid-19, on average, women did 60% more unpaid work than men in the UK, that’s 26 hours per week of care giving and housework. Since March 2020, this has increased by a further 4 hours per day in comparison to men. In addition to these unpaid domestic duties, women in employment have seen their hours increase by over 2% more than men’s, but their wages have not risen to match.

Many have suggested that we have regressed into a 1950’s style family structure which has been further fuelled by an advert depicting all household and care duties performed by women only. The idea that women are the primary carers and secondary breadwinners is reinforced by the furlough gender gap which currently stands at approx. 133,000 more women being furloughed than men. And this is not just the case in the UK.

Out of 1,081,000 people in the US who voluntarily dropped out of work, over 75% of them were women. What’s more, over 1 million more American women than men were made redundant from March to December 2020. And despite there being 8% less women in employment across both the US and UK, women are 5% more likely to lose their jobs than men.

The pandemic has also exacerbated the already unequal distribution of the mental load, the invisible labour involved in managing a household and family. As school’s introduce rigid online timetables that parents are expected to adhere to regardless of their work commitments, women have shouldered a larger portion of the responsibility. The simple fact that school WhatsApp groups are overwhelmingly populated by women is a glaring example of this. Furthermore, in the absence of school dinners and restaurants, planning food for the whole family tends to fall to mothers. For a family of four that currently means 84 meals per week, plus snacks.

The issue of gender-inequality has intensified during lockdown, and the future return to the office offers an opportunity to re-set this widespread, societal issue. So, what can be done?

Can flexible working benefit women after the pandemic?

Many employers have adopted a pseudo-flexible working policy during the pandemic, however, research by The Instant Group indicates that 64% of CRE leaders expect the approach to workplace to change permanently. But how can businesses implement change that will benefit women?

  • Mum-guilt: 40% of women compared to 13% of men work part-time or partly from home and were often stigmatised for shorter working days or working from home. This can cause undue stress and guilt for both the colleagues you feel you are deserting and the children you do not get to spend enough time with. But, due to global working from home, attitudes have changed forever and implementing a permanent flexible working policy can result in greater empathy, happiness, loyalty, and productivity across all employees.
  • Presenteeism: 57% of women believe that their childcare responsibilities during lockdown have damaged their career progression and a report released by the Women and Equalities Committee warned that permanent homeworkers could be left out of the career ladder. A flexible working policy that focus’ on output rather than presenteeism will give working mothers an equal chance of promotion.
  • Working near schools and childcare facilities: The United Nations Development Programme estimates that women do 2.5 times more care than men globally. So, unless there is a radical change in society, we need to support women who juggle a career and family. With many businesses looking for more agility in their future offices, flexible workspace operators such as Clarendon, Cuckoos Nest, and Huckletree, which provide onsite childcare, should be taken into consideration. According to data collected by The Instant Group, flexible workspace with childcare facilities is most prominent in the US, UK and India, and the top city for childcare distribution across flex space is Singapore.
  • Flexible hours: Not being tied down to a specific start-time can allow both mothers and fathers to manage their family responsibilities and commitments, such as school runs, parent’s evenings, and school productions. It can even save employees money, as nurseries often charge a penalty for earliness and lateness and many parents enrol their children in afterschool clubs simply because their working hours will not permit them to leave earlier.

Lucinda Pullinger, Global HR Director at The Instant Group, says “It is impossible to create a single policy that would be fair to everyone. Instead, we seek to understand each employee and their personal situation, and how various restrictions (not to mention illness or isolation) may impact them. We then look to see how we can best support them, whether that be providing flexible or extended working hours, reducing working hours, approving annual leave at short notice, considering unpaid leave or rethinking workload. This is the same whether the employee is male or female, lives on their own or not, and has caring responsibilities or not.

“Just in the way this pandemic has increased aspects of the poverty gap, it has reversed some of the gains made by women over recent years. However, I retain an optimistic outlook as, just like the economy is predicted to bounce back more quickly than in a “normal” recession, I believe the equality movement will bounce back faster than we have seen previously. In the longer term, the increased flexibility and more agile approach to our working lives should benefit both men and women and ultimately create a more level playing field.”

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