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Supporting women post covid

The global pandemic has been disproportionality unfair to women, highlighting the inequalities between men and women in nearly every aspect of life; from the home place to the workplace and everything in between. The vice president for Values and Transparency in the EU Commission, Vera Jourva states
‘Women are at the frontline during the pandemic and they are more affected by it. We can’t afford sliding back; we must continue to push for fairness and equality. This is why EU has put women at the heart of recovery and obliged Member States to include gender equality in investments funded from Recovery and Resilience Facility.’ VP Kamala Harris has called it a ‘National Emergency’ and the theme of this year’s IWD was #choosetochallenge this frankly embarrassing and virtually worldwide status quo of female inequality.

There is much wringing of hands and shaking of heads, but are we all just screaming into the void? Real action needs to be taken in the workplace so that all the strides we have made towards gender equality are not eradicated by the impact of the last 12 months of lockdown. Unfortunately, women traditionally work in sectors that were badly hit by the pandemic ( hospitality, caring, retail and beauty for example) and as many of these jobs cannot be done remotely, recovery is going to be trickier. Add to that the fact that women spend approximately twice as much time on unpaid care ( looking after children or relatives ) than their male counterparts and on average 23 hours doing housework compared to 15 hours for men, the second shift for Mothers is actually crippling them. These are the facts.

Inequality also exists with the underrepresentation of women at decision making level. Of 115 national dedicated COVID-19 task forces in 87 countries, including 17 EU Member States, 85,2% were made up mainly of men, 11.4% were women, and only 3.5% had gender parity. Maybe this is down to the fact that women just do not have the time to get involved in politics, a role which is not flexible and demands long hours as well as non-existent maternity leave until recently in Ireland.
All pretty depressing from a female perspective – once again, we draw the short straw – at work and at home.
All of this is not news, what can we do as a society, as an individual and as a responsible employer to right this?
Our top tips to help women post covid in the workplace:

Flexibility – Chambers Ireland and UNICEF made a joint press release this week stating “flexibility is crucial” when it comes to supporting working families post-pandemic. “Our message today is that this flexibility will be needed not only for the duration of the pandemic, but also in the longer term.”
This joint message from Chambers Ireland and UNICEF is a ‘call to action’ to the business community. By addressing the needs of working families – and supporting global relief efforts – we will ensure a faster collective recovery from the crisis and bolster your reputation and credibility as a trusted employer.”
By offering flexibility, women can stay in the workplace. With over 450,000 women in Ireland stating their role as ‘home duties’ as opposed to less than 9,000 men, this needs to be addressed.

Returnships – These are programmes designed like internships but for people returning to the workplace. For women who have, for economic or personal reasons, taken time out to care for their family, this is a practical way to open the door to back to work that seems slammed in so many faces when they try to re-enter the workplace.

Family Friendly workplaces – Companies and organisations who are genuinely family friendly will attract parents. By getting the message out there that your company adopts family friendly policies like flexibility/school time friendly/family days and community values. Ask yourself what are the values of your organisation – what is your reputation like in the market – are you thought of as a place where work comes before all else – is there work/life balance within your company and is that reflected in your overall messaging on your website/social media?

Leading with empathy – There have been some advantages to our working life because of Covid and the realisation and acceptance amongst leaders that there is more to life than work is one of them. As we have been invited into each other’s homes while we Work From Home, leaders have witnessed another side to their employees’ lives, sometimes messy and always busy while we work from home during a pandemic. Employers should have learnt to check in more often with their employees, to lead with empathy and understanding and also realise that there are, actually, more important things in life than work.

Decision making in organisations – for a female looking for work or seeking to return to work, can they see that there are females in the leadership team – are females visible in the organisation – are females promoted and is there transparency on female progression within your organisation? Do you actively support, encourage and sponsor women through all stages of their career journey?

Education – Gender balance within all companies and organisations is only possible if girls are being taught at a young age about the opportunities that are available to them outside of the traditional role models. Events like iWish, encouraging young women to get involved in STEM are so important. A real effort needs to be made to educate young women, to have the same opportunities in girls’ schools as there are in all boys schools. It is impossible to have gender parity in industries where the talent pool is tiny to begin with.

Role models – we need to seek out strong women who have succeeded in their careers and tell their stories – show young women that it is possible to pursue a career in engineering/finance or tech and rise to the top. We must challenge stereotyping wherever possible.

Gender pay gap reporting – once this becomes mandatory, companies will literally have nowhere to hide. The gender gap exists because of a myriad of reasons, i.e. women account for 70% of part time roles in Ireland while men dominate higher paid roles and women are attracted to caring roles such as nursing. Women also take more time out to care for families, resulting in a gap in their careers and ultimately a pay gap. Companies need to address these points and ask themselves what we can do to level the playing field at work for everyone.

Education of males – men need to step up and play their part as well. Support your women, put the egos aside and by leaning in to welcome women into the workplace, nurture a more positive and inclusive workplace for all. Society would work very well with 1.5 jobs per household. How could that work for your family?

Choose to Challenge – There was a lot of talk around International Women’s Day this year as companies fell over each other to portray themselves as Female Friendly. IWD is more than just a clever acronym. We need to push this to the forefront every other day of the year as well.

EmployKind – we here at Employmum and Employflex speak to women every day. They tell us stories of secret parenting, of being overlooked for promotions, of being expected to do 50 hour+ weeks, of being desperately unhappy. The future of work should not look like this – we have an opportunity now to get it right and develop a kinder world of work.