How do we tackle discrimination in a post-COVID-19 world?
Romanie Thomas has ideas to create a more flexible, equal workplace in future.
By now, we are familiar with the horrifying statistics of women suffering the greatest job losses as a result of the pandemic, with 100% of women at the brunt of this in December 2020. Compound that with the Centre for London reporting that 49% of women suffered dramatic pay cuts and loss of disposable income, the future is terrifying for women.
However, is this the whole story? In the short term, Covid continues to significantly damage women worldwide as the financial gulf widens between the genders; but the truth is that we’re at the cusp of change and there is a good chance that it could be transformational for women - and for humankind.
Prior to Covid, women were dealing with an array of taboos - some more visible than others. From older women being discriminated against in the workplace through to women silently suffering through miscarriage, it wasn’t a level playing field. A great deal of pain was being felt below the surface that hadn’t been visible to the predominantly male decision makers at the top.
A year of homeschooling and lockdowns has forced these same men to see the complexity of the caretaking role and to recognise the heavy burden of juggling it all. It has perhaps led to the wanton ‘solution-providers’ to find a better and more balanced way to pursue careers and have a fulfilling personal life.
Isn’t it better for everyone that parents are happier?
It’s taken the pandemic to realise that the importance of autonomy and freedom has a significant impact on their happiness and sense of self - and for businesses to value their employees’ needs.
So, what exactly encouraged this silent suffering pre-Covid, and how do we positively challenge these concerns in order to discuss change?
Normalise flexible working
Flexible working is not a women’s issue, it’s a human one. It also isn’t always connected to childcare, but a large part of it is. By making flexible working the de facto way to work would not isolate parents (often mothers) as 'part-timers'.
They’re not different, they’re not siloed away, they just work like everyone else does who happen to raise their children too. Isn’t it better for everyone that parents are happier? Children are more content with happier parents and employers benefit hugely from increased productivity and loyalty. This truly is one of those win-win situations.
Get serious about childcare
This isn’t necessarily a pure business issue, it’s a Government one too, but if we’re expecting the next generation of humans to be born and raised in a responsible way, we need to collectively find the means to help people do this (specifically, to fund it).
Companies with great childcare policies benefit hugely as they tend to hire more experienced women. What if we led the charge more with shared parental leave? Imagine the results. Again, this is more of a human issue and less of a female one.
Talk about bereavement
Specifically miscarriages and childcare, but also elderly parents and any bereavement in between. Just because we go to work, it doesn’t mean that our emotions and feelings go away.
Of course there’s an appropriate way to communicate and handle things, but compartmentalising and expecting women to suffer for fear of being sidelined (common when miscarriages become public as employers realise that person is likely to become a mother soon which 'hurts' the bottom line) is inhumane and bad for business.
If one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage and one in 250 are stillborn; and if women make up 72% of the current workforce, why are we not talking about this more?
At the heart of the solution for breaking down all taboos, is to increase female representation in the senior ranks. Today, just 5% of FTSE 100 CEOs are women (this drops to 2% in the FTSE 250) meaning that the people in charge of mass employment in the UK today are predominantly men.
There comes a time in every movement where the people suffering have to stop campaigning as it becomes counterintuitive. That moment for women in business happened during the pandemic. Women didn’t need to say anything, it was just an opportunity to let the facts and statistics speak for themselves.
Now the decision makers have to decide whether they want to perpetuate the status quo and revert to type, or to make the necessary organisational changes that will lead to a brighter and more gender-diverse and age-agnostic future.
About the author
Romanie Thomas is founder and CEO of Juggle Jobs
In another article on supporting wellbeing at work Cass Coulston and Ricardo Twumasi examine neurodiversity
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