What will society look like after Coronavirus – more equal, or less equal?
Updated: May 20, 2020
Week four of UK lockdown is well under way, meaning that millions of parents are working from home juggling zoom meetings and home-schooling. Whilst this presents an unprecedented opportunity for both parents to do an equal 50/50 split of tasks, many worry that a majority of women will suffer a career set back, as they tend to do the bigger chunk of childcare!
Of course, this is a time where health takes precedence over business.
But looking ahead, we find it interesting to ask the question:
“What will society look like after Coronavirus – more equal, or less equal?”
Here, three One Loud Voice members share their thoughts.
Carol Rosati OBE, Co-Founder & Chair of the Board
Carol has over 25 years experience of talent management in executive search recruiting CFO’s, CEO’s and NED’s. In 2008 she founded Inspire, which connects over 8000 board level businesswomen globally.
These are my key take-aways:
The way Businesses dealt with their staff will be remembered and people will move on as opportunities arise if it was found lacking.
Recessions tend to put diversity down the agenda. We have seen the result of this already with budgets for D&I and associated programmes being pinched.
Agile working is possible and hopefully this will be the final death knell for old fashioned work practices – we may even see rush hours fundamentally changed for the better and the 9 to 5 grind replaced by work patterns that actually work with peoples lives.
Wellbeing and mindfulness will finally be taken seriously and individuals will become much more aware of the impact of stress and anxiety on themselves and others.
Soft skills often associated more with women (empathy, nurturing, compassion and care) are finally rated as important but I hope the race for business recovery doesn’t trample all over them again
A financial crisis means those who can be available at all hours/long hours/anti-social hours may have the edge when it comes to redundancies (and recruitment)
Recruitment is likely to be pinched at the junior end – the job market for this year’s graduates almost certainly mucked up – what will the effect be for women? Can we learn anything from what happened in 2008?
The rise of Domestic abuse is in the news and I hope the danger to women ( and some men) will recognised and dealt with once and for all.
A positive I see is that reduction in international travel to do business is quite likely. Even if we get back into circulation, international travel likely to lag behind and doing business internationally without travel is going to greatly help working parents. Apart from the risk of travel vis a vis spread of COVID, I think one of the biggest changes we’ll see is that the pandemic has kick started improvements that will stem climate change. I think it quite possible it will become less socially acceptable to travel as much as we did. We will still travel, but less.
Laura Boyle, Founder, Square Circle
For the last decade, Laura led the marketing and business development team at the world’s largest law firm focused on the needs of high net worth individuals. She is now spending a year learning how to deliver profit and purpose in business with a social entrepreneurship programme called Year Here.
In the FT last week, Arundhati Roy described the pandemic as a portal. She said we can either walk through that portal carrying the inequalities of the past with us, or walk through it lighter and ready to imagine another world; "ready to fight for it".
In designing immediate solutions to protect global populations, and in re-creating the world of work on the other side of the portal, we need to address the root causes of inequality, those that create barriers for women in all types of jobs and roles.
Many of us who are working to design the impact economy believe that business is an exciting force to create this change.
And that we must return to business not as usual.
We have seen CEOs via The Business Roundtable call for a new form of governance to integrate the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit), the B Corp movement helping us all to assess companies to a global impact standard, investors pushing for new ways to put their capital into the issues they care about (for example always investing using the gender lens), social entrepreneurs designing businesses to redress the balance for hardest hit groups, and economists using their platforms.
These different angles and levers on the problem are what creates systems change.
On a more day to day level – we have seen one major tranche of the future of work arrive overnight: a dispersed workforce, working remotely (for those that can).
With business pivoting fast to online delivery, there’s lots that won’t need to go back: this is a key opportunity for employers to provide the genuine flexible working that could help families share paid and home roles more equally.
The drive to achieve gender equality is limited without a fundamental review of the system that operates around women. This is a key moment to ensure we step through this portal into a more equal world of work for all women.”
Suzanne McKie, Member of Management Committee & Legal Adviser
Suzanne is a lawyer who has specialised the fields of discrimination and employment law for 25 years, with a particular emphasis on gender discrimination and harassment. She was made Queen’s Counsel in 2012. She now runs her own law firm (Farore Law) specialising in discrimination, harassment and equal pay.
My thoughts are that managers should be more vigilant about isolating and undermining behaviours targeted at some staff (eg exclusion from Microsoft Team and Zoom meetings) because such exclusion is easier to do and to hide with remote working.
We also need to consider who is being allowed to work from home and who not, and why.
Look at these stats:
1. In 2019, the number of lone-parent (mother) families with dependant children was 1,622,000. Lone-father families with dependant children was significantly lower at 172,000
2. The latest ONS statistics on total part-time workers (as at 17 March 2020) show that whereas 2,160,000 men work part time, 6,225,000 women do.  This equates to 74.2% of total part-time workers being women, and may also serve as a basis for arguing that women are significantly more likely to be primary carers.
3. In 2019, a greater percentage of women were also ‘sandwich carers’, meaning that they combine childcare with the care of older or disabled people.
The nature of COVID-19 is rapidly developing, and it is uncertain what the impact on employers will be in light of the increased number of individuals who are likely to be unable to work due to the virus.
However, the efficient running of a business, reduction of costs, and the need to provide an effective service could all be considered legitimate aims of the employer.
Employers should facilitate flexible (including remote) working when possible for those who self-isolate as a precautionary measure if they have genuine concerns. UK Government advice also states an expectation that most employers and employees will reach a “sensible compromise”.
However, in the event in which a compromise between employee and employer cannot be reached, working mothers and carers should also consider Section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 in relation to COVID-19: the right to protection against detriment in health and safety cases.
Under Section 100, any employee, regardless of caring responsibilities, has the right to not be subjected to a detriment on the basis that they have a genuine and reasonable belief that there is serious and imminent danger (to themselves or others) from COVID-19 at the workplace and therefore elected to self-isolate despite the employer’s insistence that they return to work.
Therefore, a dismissal in these circumstances could be regarded as automatically unfair. The protection also applies to employees on zero-hours contracts.
On a positive note I think the crisis will open up greater flexible working in the future as employers see what can be achieved with it.
As an organisation, One Loud Voice is particularly keen to shine a light on the frontline women, who are working around the clock and putting themselves at risk fighting COVID-19.
Their workload is very demanding, yet often undervalued and underpaid.
Meanwhile, those in charge of policy responses are predominantly male. We all need to ensure women are included in all decision making during this pandemic, to ensure we come out as a more equal society at the other end of this pandemic.
Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you!
In the meantime, stay safe everyone.
The One Loud Voice team.