To kickstart the economy, build a system that works for women

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Coronavirus is teaching us to relook at our ecosystems, our assumptions and what exactly is needed to keep the economy going. 

Who would have thought that a huge sector of previously undervalued roles – our key workers as we now refer to them – would be critical to our success at the peak of the pandemic?

This is not the only new thinking we should be considering. It’s clear to us at Equal Talent that to get the economy started again we need what some might consider radical thinking. 

Women are the driving force of any economy

Part of the answer lies in acknowledging that women drive consumer spending and, in turn, the wealth of a country.

In their article, The Female Economy, Harvard Business Review found that women are behind the decision to purchase:

  • 94% of home furnishings
  • 92% of holidays
  • 91% of homes
  • 60% of cars
  • 51% of consumer electronics

The evidence shows that if we are to kickstart the economy, women have an absolutely essential role to play in driving the desperately needed spending initiative. Women are critical to our recovery. We need their confidence and influence to get us moving again.

The structures we currently have in place as a society, however, are stopping this from happening.

The impact of COVID-19 on women

Recent studies on the impact of COVID-19 have shown: 

  • British mothers are 23% more likely than fathers to have lost their job (either temporarily or permanently) during the pandemic. (IFS
  • More than 78% of those who have lost their jobs since the crisis began are women. (Young Women’s Trust)

This is, in part, because women make up the majority of employees in the hardest hit service sector, which includes retail, food, beverages, entertainment and tourism. 

But that’s not the only reason. More and more statistics are confirming that women have borne the brunt of all the caring duties during the pandemic, from childcare to elderly relatives. In many instances, they have done so alongside their full-time jobs. 

The impact on mental health and wellbeing cannot be underestimated. 

With a significant number of women finding themselves in the position of full-time worker, full-time carer and full-time teacher there is little enthusiasm, time or, indeed, energy to consider the weekly shopping, let alone the big spending decisions, such as buying and selling a house, that will stimulate the economy.

It absolutely falls to leaders of organisations to recognise the economic contribution women make beyond the role they are fulfilling within their organisation and to make sure that as a country we don’t find ourselves economic victims of very poor-sighted, short-term decision making.

How can employers help their female workforce?

Young Women’s Trust are calling on the Government to put young women at the heart of its coronavirus recovery programme and encouraging employers to step up also. 

“Young women have borne the economic and social brunt of the coronavirus crisis, from job losses, increased childcare responsibilities, untold hours of unpaid work and an increase in domestic violence.”

“At Young Women’s Trust we have heard first hand from young women about the far-reaching impact coronavirus is having on their work, finances and wellbeing. 

“Coronavirus has entrenched sex inequalities. It has also revealed the extent to which society depends upon jobs that are continually underpaid and undervalued.” 

Joe Levenson, Director of Communications and Campaigns at Young Women’s Trust.  

Young Women’s Trust have issued the following advice to employers to help them support and protect young women at this time:

  • Check in on staff regularly to see how they are doing and if they require additional support or flexibility.
  • Ensure you are providing flexibility – such as working hours or working from home – both now and long-term to employees who have caring or other responsibilities. 
  • Review sick pay and carers policies and provide support where needed so staff don’t feel under pressure to turn up for work when they are unwell because of money worries.
  • Continue to monitor and report on your organisation’s gender pay gap, and also monitor and publish breakdowns, including by gender, of any redundancies you have had to make.
  • Take part in the Government’s Kickstart Scheme to create new temporary jobs or apprenticeships that unlock opportunities for young women, including in traditionally male-dominated sectors.
  • Don’t just seek to return to normal as soon as possible. Many working practices are outdated and disadvantage women. This is the perfect time to review them.

Amanda Newman, founder of The Career Mum, a global community who encourage and empower others to reach their potential, agrees with Levenson.

“Through lock down I have seen increased pressure on women and their careers,” Newman says. “They have had to become primary carers, teachers, head chefs, cleaners and carried the majority of the mental load. 

“Many are working what is known as a second shift and are feeling increasingly nervous that they are putting themselves at risk of redundancy, that their performance has been impacted, or that they simply need to quit as they can no longer manage the juggle. 

“This would have a devastating impact on the gender balance that we are fighting so hard for, as well as impact those women who have already had to work that bit extra to achieve their successful careers.” 

For organisations that want to nurture and retain their female workforce going forward, Newman has the following recommendations: 

  • Communicate – clearly

We have lost the ability to see each other face to face and sense non-verbal communication. This leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding. If, for example, you have lessened a team member’s workload in order to support them, don’t assume they recognise that. They could be worrying that this means their job is under threat.

  • Stay connected 

Don’t underestimate the importance of the feeling of belonging at this time. Team building or even just an informal coffee and chat are more important than ever. Include your whole team where possible. We are making history together and it’s at times like this that we build and strengthen relationships with those who supported us.

  • Listen 

Use those all important words “tell me more”. Mental health is being impacted on a large scale. People may appear to be OK, but are they? Take time out to really listen to your people.

  • Upskill 

If your teams have time, encourage them to use this period of uncertainty to grow themselves and increase their skills. This in turn will help improve their self-belief and they will have increased loyalty to the organisation.

  • Help them to find their ‘tribe’ 

It’s a great time for women to look up and explore external networks. Help them strengthen their support networks by introducing them to your contacts, ensure they have a mentor, and become an advocate for them. This leads to effective collaboration, thought leadership and knowledge sharing.

If we act wisely, we can use the aftermath of this pandemic to move and progress our society by building inclusive and fit-for-purpose workplaces.

To do that, we must build a system where women can achieve a sustainable balance between life and career. 

If you have experienced any of these issues as a result of COVID-19 and are keen to explore your options and extend your network, we are delighted to be teaming up with Amanda Newman for a virtual summit in September, She Has No Limits. To find out more, and for details of the free webinars we will be running prior to the event, please click here.

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