Gender equality is the largest challenge post-coronavirus

Data is already showing that the risk of a She-cession as a result of the pandemic is real. Not only have women taken on more responsibilities at home – schooling and caring for children and elderly relatives – but the roles most impacted by the pandemic in hospitality and entertainment, leisure and retail, are predominantly held by women.

The impact is double edged. Women have been pushed out of the labour market by declining roles and are also having to opt out (often involuntarily) as they have to prioritise differently and are taking more of the share of caring responsibilities in the home.

Add to this where the demand is – for cyber security experts, app developers, warehouse and driving roles especially – all roles predominantly held by men. Data also shows us the impact is clearly weighted against some more than others, especially black and brown women.

These disproportionate impacts are casting a light on inequity of opportunities that have already existed for too long. 

Gender diversity in 2021:

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Know what workers want

Employers and HR leaders need to be more intentional about understanding what workers want, and especially what women want. Even before the pandemic we have research that shows women aren’t looking for extra favours, just a level playing field. 

Lack of flexible working, lack of role models, gendered career paths, and challenges accessing sponsors and influential networks were already holding women back. That’s why we released our Progress to Parity report with 10 practical steps, including helping employers to accommodate 'One Life' – the integration of work and home, rather than requiring a balancing act. 

In the last year we have learnt this can work – so how do we reshape work in a way that’s beneficial to employees?

At ManpowerGroup one of the solutions we have been accelerating is our Work My Way programme – offering our employees flexibility to choose the hours they work around their family, we’re also working with manufacturing clients to offer more choice over shifts so workers who have to go into the workplace can benefit from flexibility too. 

Now is the time to build flexibility into all roles, even those that may traditionally be thought inflexible.

We have an opportunity to create a world of work that is more skilled and flexible. Technological advances and the decoupling of work and location are beneficial to both business and family.  

Hybrid work and autonomy matters most  

Often caregiving benefits revolve around pregnancy and post-pregnancy time off, yet there are other benefits for caregivers that are resonating with employees. Without a doubt top priority is flexibility – work from home is one way, but that isn’t a silver bullet – balancing work and home even at home can cause stress and anxiety. 

Choice and flexibility matters and contributes enormously to wellbeing and a sense of being in control. 

Our data shows that for women and men – especially caregivers – a hybrid workplace matters most, one that blends work and home and allows the autonomy to work in a way that works for them.

We are checking in with our people regularly through pulse surveys and wider communications. We know the majority prefer hybrid work, 90% feel more connected than ever due to our use of tech and two thirds feel more productive. It’s working for sure. 

Skills are a great leveller

Another driver of stress and anxiety in people right now is fear of losing their job. The best way we can support is to encourage learning and nurture people’s learnability – their desire as well as their ability to develop skills to stay employable. 

We heard from women (especially those with young children) that the biggest barrier to learning is time. That’s why we create 'Learning Fridays' and 'Always Learning' campaigns, curating online micro-learning and accelerated programmes from remote management and remote selling to cybersecurity and agile leadership. 

We promote development through our three Es approach: education, exposure and experience, offering sponsorship and mentoring from senior leaders and stretch assignments alongside upskilling.  

There’s no doubt that benefits and policies matter, yet culture is king/queen – creating a culture that values performance and output over presenteeism is critical to accelerating progress to parity. 


Michelle Nettles is chief people and culture officer at ManpowerGroup