For International Women’s Day, Livi (Sustainability Intern at BG), and BG Founder Paul Adderley explore inclusion in the workplace. As a result of the pandemic, the competition for time and commitment between the home and the workplace has become enhanced. So what are the issues and what can leaders do to reduce the inequalities that persist for the current generation working women, and the next generation, like Livi who expect one full time job not two?
The pandemic has undoubtedly set women in the workplace back, with the suggestion that 25 years of progress have been lost. That’s like me, who was born in the 21st century, being a member of the workforce in the socioeconomic situation of the 1990s. Women across the world of my age are not just back to square one, we are back to square -7; if 25 years of progress have been lost, that means all the strides made throughout my entire lifetime are gone, as well as those over the several years before I was born.
It’s not all bad
It’s easy to feel despondent, reading these statements, however it also allows me to appreciate what I do have the fortune of experiencing now, things which 18-year-old women 25 years ago may not have experienced: I have a plethora of empowering TV shows to watch where women’s stories are centred and celebrated and I have female role models in all walks of life to look up to. Furthermore, this academic year the undergraduate degree that I am going to start studying in September has for the first time recorded a higher number of female students than male.
Not being complacent
While we can recognise and revel in the joys of social change, our work is never done. The reality is that the situation for women in the workplace has deteriorated over the past two years. Throughout the pandemic women have taken on much of the childcare responsibilities and household chores; pre-COVID-19 it is estimated that for every hour of care and domestic work performed by men, women did three. That number has since risen. Women are now dropping out of the workforce at an alarming rate, and this is likely due to their increased burdens at home.
This pandemic has drilled home that the world’s economies and our daily lives simply cannot function without the unpaid care and domestic work that is predominantly borne by women and girls.UN brief, Whose Time to Care? Unpaid Care and Domestic Work During COVID-19, Page 10
Knock-on effects in the workplace
From my own experience I can see that our unconscious and conscious biases have manifested themselves in these more ‘traditional’ family dynamics and working patterns, patterns that I thought (well, hoped) were a thing of the past. I see women missing zoom meetings because they simply can’t care for their children and perform necessary domestic work whilst simultaneously working full time and outputting the same productivity as someone with much fewer household burdens. We need to ask ourselves why we see it as acceptable for a man to work full time and come home and rest, whilst a woman does the same, comes home and picks up household chores, sometimes equating in hours to a fulltime job. When people work two paid jobs we shower them with admiration and sympathy, when a woman works one paid job and the equivalent in housework and childcare we see that not just as normal, but as expected.
How can we change
The situation is, in quite an understatement, subpar. These are not the attitudes I ever wanted to surround my career as I enter my undergraduate degree. Then what can we do about it? In short, we all need to address our internal biases and question why we think things that really shouldn’t be ok are ok in our eyes, and use this to inform the steps we take moving forward. As always, we need to think intersectionally, and recognise that the experiences of women up and down the country and around the world are going to be vastly different. The attitudes experienced throughout the pandemic by women of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds and sexual orientations although exhibiting some commonalities will never be identical, and we must recognise this.
The entire issue relates back to the Sustainable Development Goals, more specifically goal 5: Gender Equality which recognises the need for the empowerment of women in moving forward to build a better future.
How Beyond Green is taking steps
Reading Livi’s views above, I can see how our Beyond Green current policies, training and support can help lessen the inequalities experienced by women in the workplace, though are they enough? This also raises a boundary issue: when does an employer’s actions move from being supportive to being intrusive? Where is the transition for the employer to make reasonable adjustments and when the male family members need to step up to the plate? As an employer, there are clear ways in which we can provide support:
- Flexible working – having a robust flexible working policy that supports team members in balancing their priorities
- Collaboration across the team – avoiding team members being isolated or carrying too much responsibility alone
- Contingency time – planning in contingency time to remove pressure and allow for more flexibility
- Unconscious Bias training – to allow us to see the assumptions we might make, and support women better
Still two full time jobs
However useful I think our approaches are, Livi raises a powerful point about flexible working: “if you are a working woman, you have two full time jobs, one paid and one at home cleaning, cooking and caring then no matter how you carve that up you are still working two full time jobs!”
Flexible working it’s not just for women to get through the million tasks they have for the week, it’s for people of all genders to take up equal responsibility for unpaid work and therefore even the workload.
However, if men see the dual role of many women as the expected, rather than the two full time jobs they really have, then are they less likely to request flexible working to ensure the unpaid work is shared equally?
Bringing a woman’s two worlds together
Livi explained to me that, for many women, they feel like they live in two separate worlds of work and home, and for them the responsibilities they have for each are non-negotiable. They are not the team member or business leader 9-5 Monday to Friday, and then the housewife, mother, and carer at all other times. They are actually all of these things 24/7, 365days a year; the whole person comes to work and goes home in one world not two.
Employers have a role to play to help bring these two worlds closer together by facilitating broad conversations about what it is like to be a working woman, how the homelife impacts on their ability to work effectively and to flourish in their career. This conversation can be expanded further to understand that women’s health concerns may differ from men’s, and that with advance planning the types of tasks, the energy levels required, the working hours, etc can be adjusted to fit their specific pattern and they flourish. This mindset can also support women in the menopause phase of their life, and furthermore help men understand how they can support by using flexible working policies for women in their life.
Since the pandemic, the home or workplace has not adjusted to the changing situation that women are disproportionately taking more of the household responsibilities, and beginning to give up on their professional careers. As I write, I don’t know how we will implement the changes required, though I know the first step is to open the conversation, share information and help facilitate the unlocking of our collective unconscious bias.
I have learnt from Beyond Green becoming a Disability Confident employer that it is the responsibility of the employer to make the work environment fit the person not the person fit the workplace. I think this principle equally applies to ensuring women and men can both work together and equally share responsibilities in one world not two.
As a young person I am hopeful for the future; progress is being made but our work is never done. We need to raise awareness and value the unpaid care and domestic work, largely undertaken by women, that the economy and society would struggle to survive without. By appreciating and supporting the women in our lives and in our workplaces we can see the situation firsthand, and help out in small ways and big.
We shouldn’t just assume that women can, and should, do it all.