International Women’s Day 2021: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world

International Women's day 2021

INTOO UK and Ireland’s Managing Director, Owen Morgan discusses the importance of one of the themes of this years International Women’s Day – Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world – in ensuring there is no ‘gap’ in the talent pipeline around future women leaders. 

One of the key themes for International Women’s Day this year is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world”. It’s a noble cause and deftly links two of the key issues that continue to shape our current economic future. How much progress is really being made is, as always, is open to question.

When splitting this objective into its constituent parts – the ‘leadership aim’ and the ‘post-Covid equality aim’ – it’s clear that direction of travel varies. Notable progress has been made on increasing the number of women on UK company boards, with representation on FTSE 100 boards rising by some 10% in the last 5 years to 36.2%. FTSE 250 and 350 companies have shown similar increases. That is good news and is to be celebrated, however challenges clearly remain. Many companies continue to invest in developmental activities for their female leadership cohorts and key themes emerge as the support unfolds. In too many companies, women continue to be paid at a lower rate than their male peers (although, broadly, the gap is closing); the impact of the ‘childcare years’ has a disproportionate effect on career progression and thinly veiled misogyny, whilst on the decline, can still be found to exist at lower levels of organisations. Typically, these issues don’t have as far reaching an impact on the most senior women however further down the corporate hierarchy they remain real issues to be identified and overcome. Things are certainly improving, albeit at a slower pace than many might hope for, however these pervasive challenges remain – and in 2021 that is simply unacceptable; all of us regardless of gender have a responsibility to address these corrosive and negative incidents when and where possible.

Conversely, Covid is a unique event, but one in which women have, in general fared less well than men. McKinsey have stated that’… women make up 39% of global employment, but account for 54% of job losses [as a result of the Covid pandemic]’. There are many reasons for this, the increased impact on women as a result of job-losses in lower paid roles across catering, manufacturing, hospitality, retail and leisure – all sectors that have been forced to severely curtail their activities over the last 12 months. Add in additional responsibilities around ‘caring’ and unpaid support work and it is clear to see that women have been disproportionately impacted.

Bringing these women back into employment quickly will be key if organisations are to leverage their skills and benefit from the knowledge they possess as well as ensuring that there is no ‘gap’ in the talent pipeline around future women leaders. Covid has derailed many flourishing careers and again, it’s incumbent on leaders who have both the power and influence to act quickly and directly to ensure that the pandemic’s effects on work equality are limited in their impact. Helping those women who have lost roles as a result of Covid via re-skilling, redeployment, career transition, coaching or mentoring may just ensure that your next CEO or FD doesn’t slip through your fingers.

Owen Morgan – Managing Director, INTOO UK & Ireland