Could coronavirus lead to gender equality?

Opinion: Enforced home-working and home-schooling could change the lives of working women, and the business world, for the better.

by Romy Hughes
Last Updated: 27 Mar 2020
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Hybrid working

With so many of us being forced to work from home right now, there has been a lot of talk in the press about how this may cause a more permanent shift towards more home-working in the future. After all, there’s no better test for the merits of home-working than to force everyone to do it. 

Many employers who were previously reluctant to allow home-working, may now encourage it more in the future as they see its benefits.

But home-working isn’t the biggest change for many people’s working lives right now. Many of us are now home-schooling our children too, and it is this change that will be far more impactful to our future way of life than any renewed interest in home-working.

I firmly believe that the current period of enforced home-schooling will be the catalyst for broader positive social change, particularly for women in the workplace, as they will quickly see their full potential and emerge from the crisis with a renewed confidence in their abilities. 

Like many millions of working mums, I have been forced to balance home-working with home-schooling my two young children; all while managing a thriving technology business remotely. 

My life has always been a balancing act, but like so many parents, I am being tested more than ever right now as I split my time between running the business, delivering projects for clients and home-schooling my children.

Our social media and news feeds are dark places right now, packed with terrifying COVID-19 updates, while the ‘lighter’ memes make light of the struggles parents are going through as they try to be both teacher and employee, all while being stuck at home and worrying how they are going to pay the mortgage. I am keen to shed some positive light on the situation.

Great leaders are not born or raised; they emerge when the situation demands them to. The COVID-19 outbreak, along with the uncertainty, anxiety and disruption it has brought to our lives is the biggest challenge most of us have ever faced. 

But it is also showing us the incredible strength of leadership and community. Across the country people are stepping up to help their friends and neighbours for no other reason than just to help.

I also believe the lockdown imposed by COVID-19 will show many women that they CAN raise a family while also pursuing senior roles in their career. We may all be daunted right now as we try to figure out new routines for our children without letting our customers or clients down, but you will be amazed how quickly you can adapt. 

We don’t have to be perfect, we just need to be good enough. I believe that the positive changes in mindset over the next three months will be game-changing, especially for many women who will see what they can accomplish when the situation demands it.

In time, this will change the nature of business as we know it, as more women will have the confidence to pursue those top jobs, and more people will believe they can do them. Whether someone has, or plans to have a family or not, will not even enter into the equation. 

Ultimately, this should help us to see more women leaders in the FTSE 100, and in more senior roles across the board. This in turn will change the very nature of the business world as more women are given the opportunity to shape the world’s biggest companies in the way they feel is best.

We will be showcasing the country’s remarkable, talented, visionary and ground-breaking businesswomen of all ages, at every level and across all sectors, and those companies and colleagues that are helping them to succeed. Enter the Inspiring Women in Business Awards here. Nominations deadline extended to Thursday 23 April.

This will also prompt every other business to re-evaluate how they operate. Those that embrace home and flexible working for example are more likely to survive this crisis compared to those who insist on making people work from the office, or those that may allow people to work from home but insist on specific (i.e. “office”) hours. 

If you are an employee of those businesses, and make it through this crisis unscathed, I’d say you’re more likely to look for another job as you would feel your company fundamentally puts profit above your welfare. Those businesses who adapt quickly and trust their employees will have that trust repaid by loyalty.

Looking closer to home, now that both parents are home-working, I hope to see a rebalancing of childcare responsibilities between working mothers and fathers. I must confess that from what I have seen so far, this won’t happen automatically. Both parents need to be mindful of making this change happen, otherwise the burden of work/childcare/housework will remain unfairly distributed more to women.

But I remain an optimist. The long-term impact of this short-term change will not just be more home working, but more flexible working, more compassionate businesses, more “new” thinking from a new breed of leaders, more family-centric business models, and a move to a more even distribution of childcare responsibilities.

For any person who cares for others (whether that be children, grandmothers, carers of elderly/disabled, or anyone who just wants a better work life balance), that looks like a much better world to me.

Romy Hughes is director of tech consultancy firm Brightman

Image credit: Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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