It’s clear that maximising skills and facilitating the retention and progression of women in the workplace has benefits for business, but some company cultures and structures continue to act as a barrier to women reaching their potential.
Gender inequalities existed before the pandemic, but the arrival of Covid-19 has exposed and widened gaps that cannot be ignored.
According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 report, the pressures of balancing childcare and teaching their children while working from home saw one in four women considering downscaling their careers or leaving the workforce altogether.
Further research shows that in the period of October to December 2020, there were 15.49 million women aged 16 plus in work in the UK, down 117,000 on the previous year. Meanwhile, the employment rate for women was 71.8%, compared to 80.6% for men.
And according to the 2020-21 gender pay gap figures, released this October, the average gap was 10.4% – the same average as was reported for 2019-20 showing a lack of progress. Of the companies who filed their data, 13% reported a pay gap in favour of women while just 8% reported no pay gap at all.
There’s no predicting if we will endure repeated waves of coronavirus in the future, but here’s what leaders can do now to address existing inequalities, help shield women from further disruption caused by the pandemic, and ensure all female employees feel they belong in your workplace.
- Create policies for all
Reviewing your current policies that support women in the workplace is a good place to start. However, an important thing to consider in this process is that “women” can not be put in a box – intersectionality needs to be considered.
For example, a Black woman may have to face microaggressions and discriminatory behaviour (in and outside the workplace) that a white woman would not, while both struggle with the inequalities that can arise simply from their gender.
So, when amending or creating any policies, leaders must evaluate how inclusive they are for all, whatever race, religious background, sexual orientation, cis or trans, or disability, so your workplace can become a true ally for all women.
- Be transparent about pay
If you employ 250 or more people, then you are already legally obliged to report your gender pay gap, but it’s worth considering the benefits of wider transparency around pay. Pay transparency and pay gap reporting, including the ethnicity pay gap, are important tools in signalling to women the importance your workplace places on diversity and inclusion. It’s also an effective tool in identifying inequality issues and encouraging prompt action.
- Face facts on domestic abuse
While domestic abuse can happen to anyone, the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that 1.6 million women had experienced domestic abuse between March 2019 and March 2020, compared to 757,000 men. Official data on the impact of the Covid lockdowns is still to be released, but the National Domestic Abuse Helpline said it had received a 65% increase in calls between April and June 2020 compared to the first three months of that year.
Large-scale employers must face the fact that most will have staff experiencing domestic abuse. Training will help leaders identify the signs of domestic abuse within their teams and signpost affected employees towards support.
- Take a stand on sexual harassment
According to ACAS, more than a third of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. Recent high-profile cases, such as the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, have also thrown the topic of women’s safety into the limelight.
Establish robust policies clearly stating the unacceptable behaviour that will not be tolerated in your workplace, and back these with prompt action when not followed, to nurture a culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and feels safe.
- Be considerate of women’s healthcare issues
Access to healthcare services was greatly impacted by the pandemic, the effects of which are still being felt today. For women, essential checks such as smear tests and mammograms were suspended (about 600,000 smear tests were missed between April and May 2020). Many turned to Dr Google for advice, for example the search volumes relating to menstrual cycles issues, infertility and the menopause rocketed.
Businesses could consider raising awareness of the importance of these health checks, allowing women extra leave to catch-up on these essential appointments or funding health assessments themselves which could include smear tests, mammograms and flu vaccines.
Normalising conversations around topics, such as the menopause in the workplace, will also encourage women to seek support from their managers when they need it.
- Jump on changed attitudes
Flexible working is an effective way to help women succeed and progress in their roles, especially if they are juggling work with childcare responsibilities. The Covid lockdowns have shown what can be achieved by working from home so now is the perfect time to revise and upgrade your policies around agile working.
Training is an essential first step in educating leaders on the issues faced by women in the workplace. Tell Jane is offering a new workshop, delivered by skilled trainers with lived experience, where employers can find out more about the pertinent challenges women must overcome today and how they can support all women to achieve their full potential at work. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.