Why the pandemic could scar a generation of working women

For obvious reasons, 2020 was a year of rapid change for most global businesses.

For obvious reasons, 2020 was a year of rapid change for most global businesses. With much of the world entering some kind of lockdown at the beginning of the year, organisations found themselves quickly transitioning to remote work and adopting new communication behaviours and sales tactics. For most, it was a year of surviving rather than thriving.

There have been huge technology challenges to address with the rapid shift to a remote working model, but that’s not all. The working dynamic within organisations has changed too; no team lunches, no kitchen conversations waiting for the kettle to boil and no Friday night drinks. This has given businesses the challenge of reinvigorating their company culture and maintaining employee morale at a time when, for the most part, we were all confined to our homes.

Enabling a better work-life balance

Set against this extraordinary backdrop, we asked sales teams around the UK how the enforced changes have affected the way they work. 

76% of respondents felt that the new changes have made it easier for colleagues to balance work with family or personal life requirements. Definitely a strong benefit but one that seems to have come at a cost, with 66% of respondents reporting that their workplace culture has changed, and not necessarily for the better, due to the adoption of remote working.

Positive and negative consequences for women

We were interested to find out whether the changes brought on by the pandemic had impacted on gender equality in the workplace.

We found that 60% of respondents agreed that women have excelled during the pandemic because they tend to lead with a stronger sense of empathy when engaging with customers. 59% of respondents agreed that their working environment had become less competitive and more collaborative, which has had a positive impact on gender equality at work.

Lack of fairness

While remote working has given women the opportunity to take on new roles and responsibilities, there still appears a disconnect when it comes to remuneration.

Before COVID, female salespeople were 16% less likely to be offered financial bonuses compared to male colleagues. Concerningly, the percentage of women offered financial bonuses has dropped from 41% to 33% since the beginning of the pandemic, while the percentage has only dropped 1% for men, down to 56%.

In fact, it appears very few organisations published their gender pay statistics for the 2019/2020 reporting year, perhaps due to a suspension around enforcement action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), meaning there would be no consequences for employers who failed to publish their gender pay gaps by 6 April 2020.

Differing incentives for men and women

Despite recognising that women have tended to perform better during lockdown, it seems deep biases still remain within business decision-making processes. Before the pandemic, 23% of female employees were incentivised with vouchers compared to just 8% of their male colleagues and women were twice as likely to be offered a holiday compared to men. 

While in some instances this could be well-meaning, it’s impossible to justify why female staff are not being offered the same financial incentives or bonuses as their male counterparts. This kind of bias can, of course, have a damaging effect on employee morale.

There’s work to be done

Gender bias in the workplace is by no means a new problem, but it’s disappointing that despite the pandemic having created a more of a level playing field in the workplace, gender based pay inequality seems to have increased over the same time period. Women have borne the brunt of financial cuts disproportionately and businesses need to make sure they are being honest with themselves about what has been occurring.

With mounting evidence that remote working is allowing more women to perform at a higher level, organisations need to consider offering the benefits of this model to their staff once offices are safe to work in again. Businesses also need to make sure they are rewarding women and men equally. 

This is an exciting time of change, and I wholeheartedly believe it is the responsibility of all businesses to step up to forge a new and better future. Together, we can and should choose to challenge ourselves.

Christian Kinnear
Christian Kinnear

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