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HR has the opportunity to help progress women at work

Coronavirus presents an opportunity for HR to create a culture that encourages women's progression, despite the pandemic's detrimental impact on gender equality in the workplace.

Adding to a wealth of data concerning the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on women's careers, a new City & Guilds survey found a fifth (18%) of women were unable to secure better jobs since they were unable to work the hours required.

Furthermore only 62% of part-time workers, a contingent made up of more women than men, were likely to receive workplace training compared to 72% of full-time employees. 

However by reconsidering women's priorities, HR now has the opportunity to reintegrate them in the workplace during and in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

Whitney Benner, chief people officer at AI platform Dataminr, said that by offering flexible working and generous maternity and paternity leave, corporations could foster an inclusive environment that gives women the foundation they need to grow and flourish in their chosen career journey.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "There is a concept of psychological safety that comes into play when discussing driving inclusivity.

“Leaders must ensure they are actively listening to their employees and be authentic and transparent about their commitment to do better and be held to account."

City & Guilds found that women considered work/life balance (56%) and flexibility (44%) as top priorities, whereas men prioritised earnings (43%) and were more concerned about moving up into senior positions (22%).

Flexible working is often touted as one of the key levellers when it comes to getting more women into senior roles.

Benner added: “HR must focus not only on pulling in diverse talent, but also investing in benefits, perks, and creating an environment that enables the talent we bring in to develop their careers and thrive. It's critical for employees to have a clear sight into their path to leadership roles.”

For City & Guilds Group CEO Kirstie Donnelly, the opportunity to learn is also a critical part in supporting women at work.

Donnelly said: “It’s crucial that equal opportunities for women to upskill, reskill and progress in their jobs do not fall by the wayside.

“We need to recognise that this is an issue which must be addressed, and it starts with encouraging more flexible working practices and taking a fairer approach to in-work progression for women.”

More than just a "nice to have", Donnelly added that a gender balance is crucial to the growth and success of any organisation.

“We need the diverse perspectives and leadership styles of both women and men for organisations and societies to thrive," she said. "That’s why it’s crucial that women are empowered to gain the skills they need to progress within their own industry or to make a move to a more secure job.”

The City & Guilds report also found that 133,000 more women than men furloughed at the end of 2020, widening the gendered divide in professional opportunities.  

It was conducted based on findings from a poll of 1,000 employed or furloughed people of working age in the UK.