This is a crossroads moment; Decisions being made now will effect gender balance and diversity for decades to come.
It is a “sliding doors scenario” for women at work according to the 2020 McKinsey report that has just been published.
Progress towards a gender balanced workplace, although painfully slow, has been moving forward. The 2020 global pandemic has meant that progress can either fall backwards and the last decade of progress will be wiped out, Or businesses can re-imagine the future, take rapid and decisive action and they can harness the full value of a diverse workplace. What is that value ? The PWC 2020 Women in Work report estimates that there is $6 trillion gain to GDP across OECD countries by increasing female participation in the workplace.
Times are hard for women at work
In the covid-driven world of work, currently things are bleak for women. They are much more likely to have been furloughed or laid off, women still bear the majority of the domestic work and childcare and this “double-shift” is now being done with less supporting infrastructure from childcare and education.
Interestingly 72% of men think they share responsibilities for household labour but only 44% of women think this is true! These pandemic related issues are of course layered on top of the “standard “issues women face such as unconscious bias, judgement and criticism and micro-aggression. As a result, unprecedented number of women, nearly 25%, are considering downshifting their role or leaving the workplace permanently, damaging their careers and their financial security and setting diversity back years. This is a potentially disastrous situation for individual women and society as a whole.
An alternative future
An alternative, more positive possibility is emerging. More home working, less travelling, greater flexibility, more acceptance of the fact that everyone has lives and demands on them outside of work, all of this could re-shape the working world into something better. It could be an enabling scenario for women and therefore would allow businesses to tap into the skills and expertise of 100% of the workforce.
What will it take?
Many businesses are fighting for their own survival and many leaders, both male and female, are in in crisis mode. Understandably therefore, it makes it hard for them to think expansively and creatively and make the necessary changes to create this more positive vision of the future. But think they must if they want to thrive and survive in the future. The report (Mckinsey Sixth Annual Survey ) talks about some of the things that are needed, including minimising bias, training managers to manage in the new environment, establishing more flexibility and encouraging boundaries and work life balance in the home office.
Yes, this is a global crisis but with thoughtful leadership and vocal advocacy from women, it can produce positive outcomes for diversity and the social and economic rewards that brings.
Patricia Seabright is a communication and speaking expert who has always been a passionate advocate of gender equality in the workplace and has recently written a book that is a practical handbook for women overcoming the silencing effects of unconscious bias in organisations.