Covid-19 has thrown working and personal lives into disarray, but for women the effects have been particularly brutal. Even before the virus, gender equality was expected to take until 2120. But research by Accenture for the W20 has added 50 years to this shocking forecast.
Moreover, women’s jobs globally are 1.8 times as vulnerable to the pandemic. This is a critical moment — we must change trajectory.
Why has Covid had this impact?
Creating an inclusive workplace culture, where everyone can belong and thrive is the key to driving equality for women. In recognition of this, Siemens last year were founder members of the Tech Inclusion Partnership, a group which aims to change the predominantly male tech sector as a whole.
Partnership members include Accenture, Dassault Systèmes, IBM, Microsoft and Cap Gemini. Our objective is to learn from each other, create initiatives and advocate best practice.
On International Women’s Day in March, several of our members participated in a virtual discussion hosted by Siemens on the Covid-19 career crisis for women. The session identified several factors causing women to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic which only highlighted the underlying factors that have previously held women back which are the jobs that they do, the hours they work and their role in caring.
Women are much more likely to be working in the sectors that were shut down, including travel, personal care and retail. Moreover, because 40% of them work part-time versus 13% of men, they have been more badly affected by the biggest drop in part-time working ever in the UK.
the motherhood penalty
We’ve always known that women spend far more time doing unpaid child-caring — it’s the “motherhood penalty”. Covid-19 has made that more stark. Proportionately more women are doing double shifts or have been furloughed so they can juggle their work and take responsibility for childcare.
In the report Life under lockdown: Report on the impact of COVID-19 on professional women’s unpaid work, the survey showed that 63% of professional women with both caregiving and schooling/nursing responsibilities reported shouldering most of the domestic work, with only 22% reporting an egalitarian share of the additional household chores during the pandemic.
Women described feeling stressed, burned out and parking children in front of the TV for hours. While this meant they could work, they worried about their children’s social and emotional development. Of course, some men working from home during Covid-19 have become much more involved in sharing childcare and aware of its demands. With my family, on some days I have not even known what meals our sons have eaten, other days I’d be the one helping with maths or making a rocket out of a Pringles tube. But whilst many have experienced a sharing of responsibilities through the pandemic, the data shows that this is not generally the case.
How can Tech businesses #ChoosetoChallenge this issue?
To achieve women’s equality much sooner than the current predicted timescales, and to ensure that we don’t allow the pandemic to have a long-term effect on women’s careers, Tech businesses can play their part through their policies, their working practises and by creating an inclusive culture in the organisation.
We must get men involved in childcare early on, for example by matching paternity and maternity rights. We need family friendly policies and practices that improve life for parents of both genders and practices that. The industry has to make it more acceptable for men to be fully involved in childcare to remove the motherhood penalty
Achieving gender equality is also aboutauthentic leadership. This means emotionally intelligent senior managers being open abouttheir own challenges balancing the needs of work and family. At Siemens, our UKCEO, Carl Ennis,has demonstrated flexible working for all by videoing himself working whilst waiting for his MOT. And Angela Noon, our UK CFO, has been open about the challenges she faces juggling her job with the requirements of a five-year-old daughter.
Hearing these stories at senior levels breaks the stigma and empowers people to ask for help and say how they could do things differently. It can also highlight the business benefits of flexible working.
Flexible working is not about whether someone can start half an hour late or take time out to go to dentist, or even work part-time. It is about creating a culture of trust and ownership of how they do their jobs, giving employees the freedom to deliver the requirements of their job how, when and in whatever way they want. It means moving away from measuring people on inputs, the number of hours, and measuring on outputs, what they deliver.
Nilam Akbar, Head of Customer Business Centre at Siemens, had to adapt her 45-strong multiple operational team members quickly to home-working when the pandemic struck. She also had to look after elderly parents and, as a single mum, was responsible for home-schooling her two children. But these challenges helped her create an approach that maintains customer support while enabling staff to work much more flexibly.
It has made the team more productive in many ways, she says, as those team members logging on later in the evening receive fewer customer calls so are able to clear workloads without interruptions. This gives their colleagues more flexibility when they log on in the morning and take calls from customers.
It’s not just women with caring responsibilities who have benefitted from flexible working. There are also advantages for those with disabilities, mental health issues and other personal commitments. If everyone works in a flexibility culture, it normalises flexibility for everyone and so removes the motherhood penalty.
When making senior appointments, managers should avoid the easy option of someone who has done the job before. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle that favours men and excludes women. We need to broaden our requirements and focus on transferable skills and recruiting for potential. We also need to look at the makeup of the wider team so that we build diverse thinking and recruit individuals who will bring a different perspective and challenge our thinking. Businesses also need to encourage women to take on a wider range of high-level roles in tech, running business units, engineering and manufacturing, not just the more typical support functions. Through showcasing role models and then developing women we can build for future opportunities in these areas. The sponsorship of women’s careers can be done in simple everyday activities such as cross-skilling and involving women in new projects to build their experience and networks.
Our business depends on it
Diversity and inclusion should be treated like any other business problem — take a strategic approach, set targets and drive forwards. It is not about meeting quotas, but using data, both employee diversity data and employee perspectives data, so that women feel their voices are being heard and acted on. Tech businesses need diverse thinking to give us a competitive advantage and to ensure we’re capitalising on the innovation that is generated by considering problems and opportunities from many different angles. This will make us better at what we do, so we should behave as if our business depends on it.
It’s about changing the workplace, and not the woman, to make it equal for everybody. It is not just women who benefit.
If you’d like to listen to the recording of the International Women’s Day webinar or read some of the research that was referenced, please visit our IWD webpage.https://new.siemens.com/uk/en/company/fairs-events/international-womens-day.html