Helping women in workplace after the pandemic

Women have suffered disproportionately in the pandemic, and the new world offers a chance to correct unfairness, says Karen O’Reilly, founder of Employflex and Employmum
Helping women in workplace after the pandemic

DRIVE: Karen O’Reilly says a kinder world of work can rise from the ashes of Covid-19

THE global pandemic has been disproportionality unfair to women, highlighting the gender inequalities in nearly every aspect of life; from the home place to the workplace and everything in between.

Vice president for Values and Transparency in the EU Commission, Vera Jourva states: ‘Women are at the frontline during the pandemic and they are more affected by it. We can’t afford sliding back; we must continue to push for fairness and equality.

“This is why the EU has put women at the heart of recovery and obliged Member States to include gender equality in investments funded from the Recovery and Resilience Facility.”

Real action needs to be taken in the workplace so that all the strides we have made towards gender equality are not eradicated by the impact of the last 12 months of lockdown.

Unfortunately, women traditionally work in sectors that were badly hit by the pandemic (hospitality, caring, retail and beauty for example) and as many of these jobs cannot be done remotely, recovery is going to be trickier.

Add to that the fact women spend about twice as much time on unpaid care (looking after children or relatives ) than their male counterparts, and on average 23 hours doing housework compared to 15 hours for men, and the second shift for mothers is actually crippling them. These are the facts.

Inequality also exists with the underrepresentation of women at decision-making level. Of 115 national dedicated Covid-19 task forces in 87 countries, including 17 EU Member States, 85.2% were made up mainly of men, 11.4% were women, and only 3.5% had gender parity. Maybe this is down to the fact women just do not have the time to get involved in politics, a role which is not flexible and demands long hours, as well as non-existent maternity leave until recently in Ireland.

All pretty depressing from a female perspective — once again, we draw the short straw, at work and at home. All of this is not news, what can we do as a society, as an individual and as a responsible employer to right this?

Here are our top tips to help women post-Covid in the workplace:

Flexibility: Chambers Ireland and UNICEF issued a joint press release this week stating “flexibility is crucial” when it comes to supporting working families post-pandemic. “Our message today is that this flexibility will be needed not only for the duration of the pandemic, but also in the longer term.

“By addressing the needs of working families — and supporting global relief efforts — we will ensure a faster collective recovery from the crisis and bolster your reputation and credibility as a trusted employer.”

Returnships: These are programmes designed like internships but for people returning to the workplace. For women who have, for economic or personal reasons, taken time out to care for their family, it is a practical way to open the door back to work that too often seems to be slammed in so many faces.

Family Friendly workplaces: Companies and organisations who are genuinely family- friendly will attract parents. Get the message out that your company adopts policies like flexibility/school time friendly/family days and community values. Ask yourself what are the values of your organisation — what is your reputation like in the market. Are you thought of as a place where work comes before all else: is there work/life balance within your company and is that reflected in your overall messaging on your website/social media?

Leading with empathy: There have been some advantages to our working life because of Covid and the realisation and acceptance amongst leaders that there is more to life than work is one of them. As we have been invited into each other’s homes while we Work From Home, leaders have witnessed another side to their employees’ lives, sometimes messy and always busy. Employers should have learnt to check in more often with their employees, to lead with empathy and understanding and also realise that there are, actually, more important things in life than work.

Decision-making in organisations: For a female looking for work or seeking to return to work, can they see there are females in the leadership team — are females visible in the organisation? Do you actively support, encourage and sponsor women through all stages of their career journey?

Education: Gender balance within all companies and organisations is only possible if girls are being taught at a young age about the opportunities that are available to them outside of the traditional role models. Events like iWish, encouraging young women to get involved in STEM are so important.

Role model: We need to seek out strong women who have succeeded in their careers and tell their stories — show young women it is possible to pursue a career in engineering/finance or tech and rise to the top. We must challenge stereotyping wherever possible.

Gender pay gap reporting: Once this becomes mandatory, companies will literally have nowhere to hide. The gender gap exists because of a myriad of reasons, i.e. women account for 70% of part time roles in Ireland while men dominate higher paid roles and women are attracted to caring roles such as nursing.

Women also take more time out to care for families, resulting in a gap in their careers and ultimately a pay gap. Companies need to address these points.

Education of males: Men need to step up and play their part as well. Support your women, put the egos aside and by leaning in to welcome women into the workplace, nurture a more positive and inclusive workplace for all. Society would work very well with 1.5 jobs per household. How could that work for you?

Choose to Challenge: The theme of International Women’s Day needs to be pushed to the forefront every other day of the year.

We here at Employmum and Employflex speak to women every day. We have an opportunity now to get it right and develop a kinder world of work.

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