Achieving an equal future in a post-COVID world

Blog by Marina Kooijmans, HLB's Chief People Officer

8 March 2021

In the last 12 months we have seen real acceleration in terms of digital transformation and agile business models. But one of the more radical shifts has been the global acknowledgement of social and economic inequalities across society. Namely how these inequalities affect the workforce of the future and the intake of talent, specifically diverse talent. While the business case for a more diverse workforce has long been held, the conversation has been amplified due to the pandemic. And one group that has been greatly impacted are women.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #choosetochallenge, focuses on the major issue’s women face that prevent them from achieving both their personal and professional goals, such as gender bias, discrimination, stereotyping and pay inequality. As a global organisation, we are fully in tuned with the social, economic, cultural, and political impact women make and we are choosing to challenge why it is important to speak out in promoting change.

The impact on women in the workplace

Gender bias is an ongoing obstacle that continues to both downplay and limit the accomplishments of women. We know from our unconscious bias study in the accounting profession, that career progression has been stunted for female professionals. The same could be said for other career fields where biases either discourage women from pursuing certain career paths, or they are shut out of top positions in their field. Stereotyped roles fail to acknowledge their abilities while they often balance the juggling act of navigating family responsibilities and careers. On top of all this, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) reports that on a global scale, women continue to make an average of nearly 20 percent less than their male counterparts, even when performing the same jobs.

Unfortunately, women have been markedly affected by the economic fall out of the pandemic. Among the impacts they face includes:

  • Job losses due to pandemic-related business closures, which disproportionately impact women;
  • Reductions in overall pay or hours due to social distancing measures, which chips away at already reduced wages;
  • Increased responsibility for children due to day-care closures and the need for home-schooling, prompting larger numbers of women to leave the workforce or abandon their own businesses.

These impacts increase the current pay gap for women and have repercussions for the future. By the end of 2021, UN Women predicts more than 100 million people may be pushed into poverty. Of these, more than half are women. Additionally, as employment protection schemes in various countries come to an end, there is a potential risk that we will see further exits of women from the workforce.

Networking and allyship in times of crisis

The pandemic’s impact on women reveals ongoing opportunities to address gender bias, discrimination, and the pay gap. But what steps can we take to achieve an equal future? Through networking and allyship.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) encourages everyone to become an ally, not just women, in the workplace both at home, at work, and across industries. This includes:

  • Identifying biases when it comes to sharing responsibilities at home;
  • Assessing the environment in your workplace for gender bias and discrimination;
  • Reviewing company policies and procedures to ensure they support equal rights and pay;
  • Initiating or supporting existing programs that support inclusion, including mentorship programs and well as work flexible schedules and family leave;
  • Encouraging women to have a greater voice on the job and increased roles within the company.

Networking also plays an important role in overcoming gender bias and pay disparity. When the opportunity arises, choose a woman as a protege, and share your insights and industry connections with her. In the new virtual space we are all navigating, it may seem that networking is unachievable. Nevertheless, technology has enabled us all to connect and while it will never replace the human touch we are all missing, is has enabled us to continue collaborative working. Reaching out to your network, even if it is just digitally, can allow you to stay visible. Build communities on social medial sites and plan online networking events to help build connections among employees and in specific fields.

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#Choosetochallenge: What actions can you take?   

While the pandemic may have heightened gender inequality, it has also shone a light on what needs to change. Having diversity in your workforce and leadership, leads to diversity of thought which enhances creativity and innovation and ultimately improves business outcomes.

Global business leaders are acknowledging that there is now a real opportunity to reset and build back better and women will be at the heart of this. They are recognising the importance of wellbeing and how this influences the job satisfaction of their entire workforce. Therefore, organisation’s need to take stock of how they are fostering a collaborative and forward-thinking culture which puts its people at the heart. Some of the questions an organisation can ask themselves include:

  • How is your organisation thinking about performance evaluations in light of the pandemic?
  • What steps are you taking to redesign the way your business operates?
  • How are you challenging attitudes in the workplace or wider industry?
  • Are you providing the same advancement opportunities for your female employees as you are your male ones?
  • Do we have the right leadership to drive greater innovation and challenge group thinking in our organization?

Planning for the future

Choosing to challenge gender bias and transform unfair practices in the workplace helps to level the playing field for female workers. It also helps to attract talented women to industries while building the confidence they need in planning for and achieving their personal and professional goals. This benefits individuals, families, and society at large. It can also have an impact on talent development in the future.

Diversity and inclusion are key drivers of our talent strategy here at HLB. By leveraging the power of our network in supporting women in their careers we #choosetochallenge and call out gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping.

Join us, and the conversation, on social media using #choosetochallenge.

Marina Kooijmans

Chief People Officer

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