Thursday 14 May 2020 6:00 am

Is learning the new battle armour in the fight for equality post-pandemic?

Anna Jones is co-founder of AllBright

In the current climate, it has become abundantly clear that there is a need to address the conversation around women and equality, at home and at work. As part of my day-to-day running of all-female members club AllBright, we’ve worked hard to create spaces – physical and digital – which help all women better connect and develop their skills to achieve their career ambitions.

With the pandemic causing us all to retreat to our homes and reflect on the lives we once led, we asked our members to talk about the issues they were facing. What emerged is a need and desire for more than half of us to rediscover learning, new skills and connection – but more importantly we need a greater purpose. 

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Equality, shared responsibility and imbalance within our society are constant reminders of the necessity for spaces like AllBright. What they offer is not just a sanctuary, but an opportunity to exchange knowledge and experiences without prejudice or criticism. 

Shortly prior to lockdown we celebrated the inaugural BrightList Awards, an initiative launched to coincide with International Women’s Day, honouring outstanding and visionary individuals who inspire true sisterhood through their actions and achievements.

That event highlighted that although there is still a huge amount of work to be done, we have also seen great change. It made us stop and reflect that we all play a part in nurturing the global sisterhood, through small acts of kindness such as acknowledging the work of others, or supporting the ambition to strive for more. 

Covid-19 has threatened to undo years of progress, not only in our network, but to the female professional community at a global level. It’s in the facts: outside of the profound impact this virus is expected to have on women, Northwestern University disclosed that women will likely suffer the most economically from the pandemic, affecting both careers and earnings.

Closures and layoffs are affecting sectors that have a higher percentage of female to male workers, such as tourism and retail, whilst part-time workers considered a lower priority by employers and those in dual income households, have been the first to feel the pinch. This makes up forty per cent of the female working population.

Under current circumstances in heterosexual families with children, many women who typically take on the majority of caregiving responsibilities, household chores and childcare will be forced to forgo work to manage these priorities. Often described as the mental load, domestic responsibility is an additional burden women carry and often limits the ability for them to focus on their careers and rise into leadership roles. A recent diversity study by Boston Consultancy Group found that women were twice as likely as men to shoulder these responsibilities. 

All these factors equate to what we might consider the perfect storm for the modern working women, and threaten to undo the progress we’ve made in recent years. Northwestern University further commented that many women’s lifetime earnings will never recover. That’s lifetime. Not short term.

What uncertainty brings is a personal reset on career, priorities, financial standing and an assessment of long term career fulfilment. Understandably many will try and use this time to upskill themselves and future-proof their careers – putting themselves in the strongest possible position.

A recent poll of 2,000 AllBright members found that sixty one percent are considering a career pivot post-lockdown, which goes to show the level of uncertainty we’re facing as a community, but also a willingness to learn, with many considering the different options available. Sixty five percent of our members said they were using the time to improve, and in spite of the current challenges, seventy percent stated they felt excited about the future of work as a woman, which goes to show not just the resilience but positivity of the modern working woman. 

Admittedly, it’s hard to see this now with so much at stake. People may feel powerless to take control of their current situation, but times of challenge can often bring with them a much needed and renewed sense of perspective. In the female community it’s important that we come together for the greater good – supporting and empowering one another, to help us emerge from this more positively.

At AllBright we’ve used this time to predict the needs of our sisterhood and meet the demand for our workshops as women look to upskill, using this time to self-improve and give themselves the tools to prepare for whatever the future brings. Earlier this month we launched AllBright Digital, a new membership service offering online training and content and importantly the ability to network and connect with others.

Packed with inspirational video courses from high-profile business leaders, to coaching, digital events, and facilitated pairing with other AllBright members, the platform aims to tackle the global pandemic’s effect on working women, and our mission beyond that to support our community of sisterhood globally.

We can’t predict what the future holds for when we do eventually return to the workplace, but we can certainly embrace this unique moment in time with the hope of emerging with a new sense of wisdom, unity and optimism. If it’s equality we’re fighting for, as women there’s no better way to be prepared than to be ready.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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