The economic fallout from the pandemic – that is, the worst global recession since the Great Depression – has been devastating for women. The UK economy shrank by a record 9.9% in 2020 and women’s finances, job prospects and female-dominated industries like hospitality and retail have been hit the hardest.
Yet even before the pandemic, the economy wasn’t working well for us. Women were already having to navigate the gender pay gap, maternity discrimination, the glass ceiling, sexual harassment, childcare costs and more.
More from our weeklong coverage of International Women’s Day 2021:
What can business leaders do?
The longer women carry the burden of the pandemic’s economic fallout, the more women will leave the labour market permanently, according to PwC’s Women in Work Index.
It’s clear, then, that businesses have a key part to play in lifting up and supporting women at this pivotal moment in history.
So, what can business leaders do? Seventy per cent of women who experienced negative shifts in their routine because of the pandemic believe their career progression will slow down.
Most (55%) said a promotion and/or pay raise would be the most beneficial step their company could take to support them in their career. It goes without saying that unconscious biases must be addressed here.
Providing more learning and development opportunities for female employees – that can, importantly, be accessed flexibly online – is also going to be crucial in ensuring they remain engaged and feel supported at work.
Forty per cent of women surveyed by Deloitte said this would be the most constructive thing their organisation could do to support them in their career right now.
It’s statistics like this that informed our ‘why’ for launching AllBright Digital last year. In 2020, we had thousands of women from all over the world join us at over 337 virtual events and over 80 online courses. The ability to upskill is more important now than ever before.
Research has long highlighted the importance of networking, mentorship and sponsorship for women's development and confidence – the most successful women have both a wide network and a smaller inner network of women they’re close with.
Almost half of women (46%) in Deloitte’s survey said leadership, networking and mentoring opportunities would benefit them right now, which is part of the reason AllBright launched our membership networking programme, Sisterhood Matching, in 2020. Creating connections which inspire confidence and career-progression drives everything AllBright does.
Given the current environment, it’s vital these accommodate different schedules and needs – think online events, discussions and pre-recorded talks. Once normal life returns, let’s ensure the early morning networking breakfast is just one option among many.
What’s more, women must have access to a supportive community at work during such a tumultuous time and beyond. They need to feel seen, heard and supported by each other.
Ultimately, they need to feel connected. My mantra is that ‘sisterhood works’ and it’s this ethos that informs everything we do at AllBright. As women, we are undeniably more powerful together. If we can support one another and grow during times of adversity, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.
Anna Jones is co-founder of AllBright
In celebration of International Women's Day this year across the week HR magazine will be providing expert perspectives on gender equality and the expectations of women in the workplace.
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