The impact of Covid-19 on gender equality

To celebrate International Women’s Day Business Reporter explores the impact of the pandemic on equality in the workplace and elsewhere

The pandemic has had a huge impact on everyone globally with millions of people feeling the consequences of job losses, economic downturn, school closures and social isolation, all while adjusting to the new normal. However, the pandemic has been especially difficult for women as research suggests they are more likely to bear the brunt of childcare issues and feel pressure to be more productive, despite being in hard times.

This International Women’s Day, it is important to recognise the impact that COVID-19 has had on equality and really think about what we can do to ensure that when we come out of the pandemic women and girls’ rights are treated fairly.

The impact of the pandemic

With experts warning that the pandemic could set progress towards gender equality back decades, Graham Jackson, CEO at Fluent Commerce believes “organisations must adopt a proactive approach in developing an authentic and flexible family-friendly culture that ensures parents and carers are able to retain their pivotal place within the labour market.”

He adds: “To create lasting and meaningful change, we need to change cultures, habits and stereotypes – with policies that support and promote women in business, without forcing them to make choices between their families and careers.”

“Now more than ever, initiatives such as International Women’s Day play a pivotal role, ensuring that women and girls’ rights are treated equally and fairly remains at the forefront of our approach to life, work, friendships and common human courtesy,” agrees Stephen Roostan, VP EMEA at Kenna Security.

“When it comes to my industry – technology – there’s no escaping the truth that the majority are run by men, and female role models are few and far between. At its worst, the industry has cultivated a toxic “bro or lads culture” that prioritises young men with questionable and toxic behaviour above all else. But at its best it’s creating a growing and powerful group of women who are moving tech forward. Kimberley Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls Code is a great example. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube is another.”

It’s clear the pandemic has impacted gender equality and organisations must make allowances for women who may be struggling during these challenging times. Anna Litvina, Solutions Engineer at Bitglass, reminds women who are juggling home and work life to take the time for themselves. “We’ve all been hit hard by the pandemic. It has not been easy for anyone, least of all for working parents who are having to juggle both work and childcare. The pressure has most certainly piled on for women that have had to shoulder these responsibilities alongside working full-time.”

“There are more interruptions throughout the day and the unspoken expectation to be always available, leaving little separation between office and home life. We can’t forget to take the time to look after ourselves, both physically and mentally. Organisations need to make sure they are supportive of their staff, offering flexibility whenever possible.”

Choosing to challenge

With the theme for International Women’s Day this year being ‘choose to challenge’, we heard from Angela Garland, support team lead at Content Guru, who believes that working in the tech industry is a challenge that young girls should definitely be choosing.

“My advice to young girls thinking about a career in tech is to go for it. The most important thing is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, speak up in large groups of men and put your ideas out there. Find an organisation that puts everyone – regardless of gender – on an equal playing field and pushes you into a role where you challenge yourself and those around you.”

Nicole Sahin, Founder and CEO of Globalization Partners, agrees that “This year’s International Women’s Day theme, choose to challenge, perfectly captures the social changes and feelings we have witnessed over the last year. Despite the immense difficulties people across the world have faced due to the pandemic, more people than ever have come together to vie for equality and inclusion of all kinds. Choosing to challenge reminds us that we all must play a role to help create a more equal world.”

Reflecting on this year’s theme, Michelle Fitzgerald, Director of Demand Gen and Events at Plutora, found that this year she overcame challenges both personal and professional. I find that my biggest ongoing challenge has been making the time to invest in myself, both professionally and personally. Taking time to advance skill sets, learn new things and to just recharge tends to take a back seat in the fast-paced world we’re living in. This year, making it a priority to set aside time has improved my balance and allowed for growth.”

How to overcome the challenges of 2020 for a better future

There are still many challenges we need to overcome when it comes to reaching gender equality. Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft believes that “women of all ages and backgrounds need to come together to challenge the gender pay gap and the government needs to play its part in enforcing organisations tackle this issue head-on. Organisations should be treating all their employees fairly, no matter of gender. This year, #choosetochallenge gender pay gap reporting.”

Svenja de Vos, Chief Technology Officer at Leaseweb Global, thinks that the pandemic highlighted how many companies weren’t digitally ready and that businesses must normalise this adoption of remote working moving forward. A good example is the sudden shift to remote working; organisations had to quickly initiate projects that could be deployed remotely, which meant that remote working policies had to be overhauled fast to bring them in line with the ‘new normal’. Fast forward a year, and these work-from-home policies have become standard. It’s a whole new way of flexible, digital working. As companies increase or normalise their adoption of remote working practices, women stand to benefit in terms of more gender-balanced career trajectories and less earnings inequalities.”

People Director at Six Degrees, Liz Cook, believes the challenges of 2020 are far from in the past.The truth is, we are still living and working in an imbalanced world. International Women’s Day highlights the importance of supporting women and men alike through agile working structures that level the playing field, and empower people to be the very best at what they do, no matter what their circumstances.”

Gender diversity remains a key issue in the tech industry. However, with technology leaders encouraging young females to choose STEM, as we look to the future we should see more women entering the industry and making a positive change.

© Business Reporter 2021

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