Covid-19 is reversing gender equality

Mar 2021

“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge. How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”

This International Women’s Day I have taken time to pause and reflect on where we are as women. I usually acknowledge this day through attending an event and joining in on celebrating the progress made. But we all know that this has not been a good year for women.

Anyone reading the news is aware that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. And most of us are, or know someone, who is juggling the demands of working from home, home-schooling, running a household and dealing with the psychological and emotional stresses presented by Covid. This past year, women have been more likely to be furloughed or lose their jobs, and over half those interviewed for a Mumsnet poll recently, expect the progresses made toward gender equality to reverse over the next year.

It is not just women in the workforce who have been affected. In the past few months, our ReLaunch Programme that focuses on helping professional women out of the workforce take their next steps back into employment, has been put on hold. Women just haven’t been able to commit the time to focus on themselves and their own development. Most of the women we spoke with about this said they now only had approximately 1 hour or less a day to themselves and that the pandemic was negatively affecting their mental health.

During the past year, while many fathers have engaged more in household responsibilities, the division of labour has largely fallen back on traditional roles. As a result, according to a new McKinsey report, women in senior-level roles were 1.5 times more likely than men to think about changing their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. Take a minute to let that sink in.

Official statistics in the UK showed that during the lockdown, levels of happiness across the population fell at a double-digit rate, while anxiety rose. Parents scored worse on both of these than non-parents.

Reversing progress made toward gender equality back to where we were in the 1970s, which is being predicted by many, would not just be devastating for individuals and communities but for our economy as well. The World Bank Group’s Women, Business, and the Law 2020 estimated that women’s lagging participation in employment and entrepreneurship cost the world about 15 percent of its GDP. A July 2020 report by McKinsey, noted that if negative gender trends continue with no action taken, global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030.

With children returning to school in the UK, there is hope that we can start making forward progress once again toward closing the divide. But with many women exhausted and stressed by the past year, and the pandemic not yet over, we definitely have our work cut out for us.

We all need to take steps to make a difference and to ask ourselves what part we can play in bridging the gap. Building confidence, increasing happiness and reducing anxiety are key.

At Link UP we know that engaging in skilled volunteering projects can be hugely fulfilling while making a valuable contribution to the community. Our volunteers have reported that they:

  • feel more purposeful,
  • have more confidence,
  • have increased skills and interests, and
  • have an improved CV and employment situation.

All of this is good for mental health. But it is also good for employment. In a 2016 survey by Deloitte, Building Leadership Skills through Volunteering, 82% of recruiters said that they would be more likely to choose a candidate with volunteer experience on their CVs. The study went further to show a preference for skills-based volunteering, as it is viewed as an excellent way to develop strong leadership skills. We have seen this in practice as our skilled volunteer roles have helped women build confidence in their skills and gain clarity about what they would like to do or to just feel happy and positive about giving back in a meaningful way that truly makes a difference. This places them in a great position to get a new job, return to the workplace or change careers.

This is the small contribution we can make to help women get back on track in a way that works for them, their families and society. We look forward to working with others in the year ahead to make positive progress with an eye toward being able to celebrate success once again next 8 March.

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