Bosses failed to adequately support women during lockdown

08 June 2021 5 min. read
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More than half of women in the workforce are less optimistic about their career prospects today than before the pandemic, while almost six-in-10 are planning to leave their job in the coming 24 months. According to a global white paper, the vast majority of working women have found the demands of their job have spiked sharply, while they have also been burdened with a disproportionate share of house work and child-care duties at home. 

According to an IFS report in April 2020, women were about one-third more likely to work in a sector that was shut down by Covid-19 than men, while and even after controlling for occupation, women were still significantly more likely to have lost their jobs than men, according to Cambridge University research performed at the same time. This was just one of what would soon be many examples of the gendered fallout of Covid-19, as pre-existing inequalities – such as the disproportionate number of women working in low-paid, service industry roles, or the epidemic of unpaid domestic labour – resulting in women being hardest hit by job losses and school closures. 

What is often overlooked, however, is how the crisis has impacted women who have managed to retain their jobs – something a new study from Deloitte has blown wide open. While many white papers on the lockdown months point to general improvements in work-life balance due to home working, for example, Deloitte’s study has found that entrenched views regarding the role of women in the domestic sphere have seen many of them doubly burdened by heightened work demands, and expectations to care for children or maintain a household. 

Women are shouldering more responsibility at home and at work, and they have less time to pursue their own interests

Conducted between November 2020 and March 2021, the ‘Woman@Work’ survey canvassed a broad cross-section of both care-giving and non-care-giving women, across a variety of sectors and roles, including C-suite executives through to those in non-managerial positions. Altogether, the researchers found than fewer than half of that sample rated their current job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity at work as “good” or “extremely good,” in stark contrast to around three-quarters before the pandemic.

Illustrating why this might be, 77% said that their workload for paid employment had increased during the pandemic, while a further 59% said that the amount of time they spent completing house-management tasks had also spiked. A sizeable 35% meanwhile also said they had seen the amount of time looking after children grow. Broadly, these figures suggest that women are being let down on two fronts then; old biases about domestic labour seem to have left women with a disproportional amount of additional house-management duties, while employers seem not to have considered that life in the ‘home office’ during a time when schools have been closed comes with additional responsibilities for many women.

Further acknowledging this, Deloitte also found that healthy boundaries between work and home deteriorated drastically over the last 18 months. Only 22% of women believe that their employers have enabled them to establish clear boundaries between work and personal hours. All this has left 51% of women feeling less optimistic about their career prospects now than before Covid-19, and 49% of the sample said their career was stalling. Of those, 29% added that poor mental health was a key reasons for this, thanks to the mounting burdens placed on them during the lockdown months.

Fear of career reprisal is the top reason why women don’t report non-inclusive behaviors

The idea that employers are failing to adequately support women is backed up by the fact that 45% of the women who changed their working hours due to care responsibilities, also noted their relationship with their employers was negatively impacted by this. This grew to 54% for BAME respondents, and 65% for women who were sole parents. As a result, it is not hard to see why fear of reprisal is the top reason women told Deloitte they kept quiet on ‘non-inclusive behaviours.’

While 25% said they feared reporting an issue would adversely impact their career, a further 15% said their organisation had no clear way to escalate such a complaint. On top of this, 13% worried the behaviour they reported would get worse, as 11% were not confident reports would remain confidential. Meanwhile, 10% were concerned how it would be perceived badly by colleagues, 9% said the same of their manager, completing a damning picture of the way their organisation has looked to include them – even as inclusivity climbs the corporate agenda; suggesting there may be something worryingly performative about such gestures.

Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Deputy CEO and Chief People & Purpose Office, noted, “As organisations look to rebuild their workplaces, those that prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion in their policies and culture and provide tangible support for the women in their workforces will be more resilient against future disruptions. Additionally, they will lay the groundwork needed to propel women and gender equity forward in the workplace.”