The COVID-19 pandemic has been disrupting businesses around the world since the beginning of 2020 and is presenting both corporate leaders and HR professionals with challenges unlike any they’ve seen before.
Women in particular have been affected by the restrictions stemming from the pandemic, and are facing an onslaught of demands from both home and employment commitments. Globally, women are currently leaving the workforce in record numbers, with many others dropping the number of hours they work. The women remaining in their roles are stressed, tired and pulled between commitments ranging from childcare, home schooling, domestic duties and employment obligations. Self-care has become almost non-existent. Large parts of the female workforce are at the very edge of what they can withstand, meaning burnout is a real issue.
But why should companies care about gender equality?
How can your company ensure it weathers this crisis well?
How can you make sure your business is set up to take competition-beating advantage of business opportunities that bloom as economic stability returns?
And, more to the point, what do all of these things have to do with each other?
Having women in leadership positions positively impacts your bottom line
Female participation at executive level within companies leads to higher revenues. A recent McKinsey report found that there was a 48% likelihood of financial outperformance when comparing companies with 30% female representation at executive level to those with 0%.
One of the reasons for this, the report found, is that more diverse executive teams tend to make better, bolder decisions. Incorporating different views and experiences of the world on executive teams, means that more creative solutions to problems will be brought to the table.
The specific perspective and life experiences women bring also help their company tap unserved female populations, increasing revenue and driving sales into these new markets. And the market for goods and services which address the needs of women is huge! Globally, women control over $20trillion of spending and make or influence 80% of buying decisions.
Clearly, putting your company in a position to tap into that female-controlled spending by nurturing women into leadership roles is of huge financial benefit to the company.
Understanding the WHY behind the reversal in gender equality advances
The statistics paint a frightening picture of the decline in gender equality within the workforce and across society. Women work overwhelmingly in sectors which are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic (e.g. hospitality, travel, and entertainment), but the numbers are not explained by this alone – in fact, one study has estimated that women’s over-representation in industries hardest hit by COVID accounts for only a quarter of the women leaving the workforce.
Both globally and in the UK, women take on the lion’s share of domestic and caring duties. There have been many studies looking at this issue, with one of the most recent finding that women remain responsible for around 75% of unpaid domestic duties. The impact of school closures and increased isolation in the face of intensified domestic stresses during COVID have had an enormously detrimental effect on women’s lives.
Understanding the social impact of improving gender equality
When women earn an income, they reinvest 90% of this income into their families as compared to men who invest only 30-40%. This is known as the ‘multiplier effect’. If women are unable to earn an income, or their income is substantially reduced, income for that family’s needs will drop away.
The future impacts of this – child poverty, inhibition of future success for those children as they become adults, a reduction in economic diversity in the future, shrinking female pension pots and a reduction in the future spending power of both those women and children, to name a few – have broad effects on GDP growth, social cohesion and the bottom line profitability of individual businesses.
What can you do as a business?
Some of these are global or national policy issues, and they may feel out of reach to you as a business to help address. So how can you start tackling gender inequalities in the middle of a pandemic?
- Put equality and inclusion at the heart of what you do – educate the whole company on why it’s important both for society and your company’s financial success.
- Address the ‘broken rung’ on the female career ladder, supporting women to make the first step up into a managerial role.
- Ask your female workforce what support and assistance they need in order to make their everyday easier. It will vary from person to person, but it might be as simple as a pair of wireless headphones to allow them to listen to a work call whilst moving around the help children with schooling.
- Continue to invest in and offer training in inclusion and diversity. It may not seem like a priority right now, but it will mean that your company is best poised to make the most of the recovery when it comes.
- Support your female workforce through this most difficult of times by offering training or access to seminars and webinars that tap into an existing community like the Rising Network offering support or invest in your people and book your employees a place to attend our Rising Festival where we’re bringing the energy, the inspiration, the skill building and the connection online this March!