Female employees have suffered most in the pandemic. More women than men have lost jobs in low-paid sectors that have been hardest hit in lockdown, like hospitality and retail.
That’s the same for areas of insecure work like zero hours contracts, which have seen the greatest fall in earnings or hours.
And research shows that women in heterosexual partnerships have taken on the bulk of childcare, home-schooling and domestic chores while working from home themselves - with pressure mounting to unbearable levels for many.
Although the widespread vaccine rollout gives hope of a return to some kind of normality, experts believe that gender equality has been set back decades - and the UK is now experiencing a ‘she-cession’.
With schools now reopening for all pupils, the immediate pressure is set to lessen. But for many mothers the damage to emotional and mental health - and perhaps also career progression - will take longer to recover from.
That’s why when it comes to performance reviews for this unique period, it’s important not to penalise female employees because of circumstances beyond their control.
It doesn’t seem fair that a working mother who’s had to juggle a full-time job remotely as well as home-schooling or childcare is evaluated on the same level as a colleague without any caring commitments. At HR GO, we believe it’s time to cut working mums more slack, focusing on outcomes and not ‘virtual presenteeism’.
Now many employers are coming out of the ‘crisis management’ stage of the pandemic, it’s a good idea to review focus. Do the diversity and inclusion initiatives your organisation had in place before the pandemic reflect the new reality we’re now in?
Of course, diversity isn’t just about gender alone. According to research, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women in the UK have been harder hit financially than white women. That’s on top of the fact that the BAME population has had a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 compared to white people in the UK.
Home is not always a safe haven. For women experiencing or fearful of domestic abuse - whether that’s physical violence, coercive control, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse - going into work in pre-covid days provided some reprieve.
Now working from home may have worsened some vulnerable employees’ situation, and vastly heightened their feelings of isolation.
As an employer, be strict about staying in contact with remote staff - and encourage colleagues and managers to have regular one-to-one check-ins to talk about wellbeing. Business in the Community has produced a domestic abuse toolkit for employers which includes more helpful pointers.
Long-term, it’s not yet clear what will be the implications of the pandemic on women in the workforce.
But as an employer, making sure you get the right focus on wellbeing and welfare will help all your team members thrive - and in particular attract a new generation of strong female employees in the future.
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