As the world comes together to celebrate International Women’s Day, the fight for gender equality enters a defining era.
Today is a celebration of empowerment and inspiration, but tomorrow is even more important.
The recent news that all-male boards had disappeared from the FTSE 350 was a win for diversity, but the economic challenges posed by Covid-19 has put gender equality on a knife-edge.
Research from City & Guilds revealed that the Covid-19 fallout could threaten to set the clock back on progress made towards female empowerment and equality in the workplace.
Campaigners are calling on employers and the government to ensure gender equality does not fall behind by taking active steps such as flexible working policies.
Ann Cairns, executive vice chair of Mastercard, believes Covid-19 has put women in a more vulnerable position.
“Clearly the pandemic has led to a step back in the fight for diversity within business, as a crisis can always lead to the retreat of those who would otherwise strive to make change in times of prosperity,” she said.
“I say differently, and will continue to work with Mastercard to use action rather than words to create more diverse businesses across the globe.”
‘Reach for the stars’
NASA has urged women to “reach for the stars” and wants its latest Mars mission to inspire females to pursue sectors traditionally dominated by men.
Space roboticist Vandi Verma hopes women’s high profile in the Mars venture will ignite further change, but challenges lie ahead.
One in four women have experienced a fall in income over the past year, and more than half have seen their career and mental health deteriorate, according to Fidelity International.
As the firm puts it, the financial challenges of Covid-19 must not be a permanent blow for women and unwind years of progress.
Alexandra Altinger, CEO of J O Hambro Capital Management, urged businesses not to take their foot off the pedal.
“Gender pay gap enforcement may have been delayed due to the pandemic, but the chickens will come home to roost before the year is out,” she said.
“With the pandemic having huge consequences for women in the workforce, businesses will have to act fast to avoid action being taken by the equalities watchdog.”
Pandemic dents female career confidence
New data from the Equal Power campaign, which is working to get more women into politics, showed that action on female representation is needed now more than ever.
The movement found that 74 per cent of women would be unlikely to stand as an MP, compared to 59 per cent before the pandemic.
Three quarters of the women surveyed felt their diverse needs had rarely been represented in the UK during the crisis.
While the pandemic has shifted some attention away from social issues, finding new ways to maximise women’s access to professional development must remain a priority in every sector.
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to highlight the role more flexible approaches can play when it comes to inclusion.
Gender equality wins have been met by unprecedented hardship and the direction of progress is left in the hands of society.
Today acts as a reminder of the importance of tomorrow.