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How COVID significantly impacted women’s careers and what to do

Decades of progress on workplace gender equality are under threat by COVID. There have been reports that women are taking the brunt of the impact since the start of lockdown and with the UK going into a recession this impact will continue. It has been reported that women have been cutting back their working hours by 11.5% as compared with 7.5% for male employees. COVID has substantially increased women’s unpaid care work in particular as we live in a society where women are the main caregivers in the family. Reports have shown that women have had to do the majority of childcare and home schooling since the start of lockdown.

With women dropping out of the labor market in disproportionately high numbers, there is a danger that some of them will be locked out of work for good. Women tend to be more targeted by redundancy and furlough in comparison to men. These issues need to be addressed now to ensure that the next generation of women is not set-back.

How has COVID impacted women’s equality?

Women are hit harder in COVID when part-time jobs fell 70% (women are three-quarters of the part-time labor force in the UK). Mothers are 47% more likely to lose their jobs than fathers since COVID (Institute of Fiscal Studies). Mothers also are more likely to be furloughed and their hours have been cut back 50% more.

According to a research conducted by London School of Economics, Queen Mary University of London, Women’s Budget group and Fawcett in April 2020, 42.9% BAME women said they believed they would be in more debt, compared to 37.1% of white women, and 34.2% of white men. 42.9% of BAME women, said they would struggle to make ends meet over the next three months. Nearly half of BAME women (45.4%) said they were struggling to cope with all the different demands on their time at the moment, compared to 34.6% of white women and 29.6% of white men. Nearly half of BAME women (45.4%) said they were struggling to cope with all the different demands on their time at the moment, compared to 34.6% of white women and 29.6% of white men.

Around three quarters of women reported doing the majority of the housework or of the childcare during lockdown. This was similar for BAME and white women. BAME women were most likely to report that they were struggling to balance paid work and caring for their children, struggling with all the competing demands, and struggling to go to the shops or do other tasks because their children were home, compared to white men (least likely to struggle))

Why are women more at a disadvantage during a recession?

Women in general and especially Black, Asian and ethnic minority women tend to work in industries that are hardest hit in this recession. These industries include hotels, restaurants, cleaning services and retail. Because women are over-represented in the hardest hit industries, they have been harder hit than men. While total monthly hours worked by men fell by 7.7% between March and May, total monthly hours worked by women fell 12%.

Married women are more likely to leave the labor market when jobs disappear. It may be the case that they may have to balance added caregiving responsibilities (childcare) amid the economic downturn. Societal institutions still establish gender norms for women as the primary care giver for children and older relatives, both of who need extra help now. But married women have more choices because of more wealth and the potential income from their spouses than is the case for single women. Single women clearly feel the brunt of the recession more acutely.

This COVID recession is hitting hardest workers with lower earnings. In fact, workers in occupations in the lowest 30% of weekly earnings account for 60% of the decrease in hours worked from February to May. Women of often in lower earning occupations than men and therefore are hit. Research shows that whereas workers in the bottom tenth of earnings had total hours cut by 27%, workers in the top tenth had them cut by only 5%.

What can companies do in response to this unfortunate trend?

1. Acknowledge bias

Bias is a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned. Organizations should help managers focus on inclusion and diversity in the conscious mind. They should hold companywide unconscious bias trainings, organize perspective activities to address stereotypes and view situations through a different lens, assign diverse groups to work together to achieve a common goal, solicit honest feedback about the company’s efforts to foster a diverse and inclusive environment.

2. Provide sponsorship programs

A sponsor is someone who is pounding the table for you to get the raise, the promotion, or the chance to work on a high profile project. Organizations should make sure that minority workers at lower levels interact meaningfully with senior talent, they should provide minorities with opportunities to network and to broaden their leadership skills , they should require executives to demonstrate an actionable and measurable result which is incorporated into their yearly performance plan.

3. Hold leaders accountable

Companies should understand how to measure and track success in regards to diversity. They should tie diversity goals into other business goals, make accountability personal, choose accountability partners for their leadership team.

4. Emphasize the business case for diversity and inclusion

Organizations should implement a top-to-bottom strategy for diversity and inclusion, cultivate a new mindset, explain how diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives tie to the business priority and practice inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders are aware of their own biases and preferences, actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making.

What can women do if they feel they are being unfairly targeted at work?

Women who feel they are being unfairly targeted by job cuts at work during COVID should try and remove the emotion from the situation. In order to advance a discrimination claim, it is crucial to remove the emotional elements and focus on specific issues, facts and details. They should also document any evidence: make copy of emails, slack messages, use performance reviews notes, keep a journal of the discriminatory behavior. According to FindLaw, notes should include the time, date, location and the names of people who witnessed the incident. Plus, include a description of what occurred. Women should also ask other women and other minorities including people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people in their workplace if they had similar cases of unfair treatment or discrimination and document it. They should also ask questions: ask their manager, HR, leadership what led to that decision and how the process took place and document the answers, ask for evidence about how the process that led to the decision took place and record all the answers; meeting their manager and making it clear they want to work together to help solve the problem. Women should also be mindful of retaliation. The EEOC says the largest percentage of its cases are retaliation against workers who have made a complaint. If women experience retaliation, they should add those details to their journal. Finally, women should seek advice from experts from employment lawyers.

In summary

COVID has significantly pushed more women out of the workforce and has a negative impact on women’s careers. Leaders should focus on preventing discriminations against women and other minorities and take accountability for workplace equality. Organisations actively investing in women’s careers will thrive in COVID and significantly improve their retention, engagement and productivity. At Inspired Human, we provide high-quality unconscious bias training and inclusive leadership training to support workplace equality. Take the first step in supporting workplace equality by contacting us today.

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