Trying to get a clear picture of the longer term impact of Covid is difficult when things keep changing all the time. For now, the emphasis is on the immediate threats – to well being and health.
What will the impact be of Covid on women’s working lives and their families’ outcomes? It’s hard to tell because everything keeps moving. Some of the survey results coming through now are based on the pre-lockdown period when business was picking up for many. Things are a bit more grim now. It’s hard to keep up with what is going because every time you do a survey everything shifts.
Even if you anticipated the lockdown and the return to homeschooling and had prepared yourself mentally, the reality may be more of a shock to the system than you expected and, for many women, it will be extremely stressful. We know that significant numbers lost or left their jobs last time round. And we are already hearing from women who are being turned down for furlough, key workers who are being turned down for schools access and grandparents who are keen to help out, but unsure of their rights.
There are the short-term impacts of Covid and the longer term ones, which are unclear at the moment. How many women-led businesses have failed and will fail? Will women lose out on work opportunities and progression long term because they have been the ones who are more likely to be doing the homeschooling? Or will more remote working help them to get ahead? Homeworking can be a double edged sword, of course. We know about the increase in domestic violence due to more homeworking. A report out this week highlighted the rise in workplace sexual harassment of remote workers. Predators will always find new ways to operate and so too must those who confront them.
Another longer term issue will be the impact of Covid disruption on pensions – a subject of debate in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work yesterday where some grim statistics were presented. There will be many outcomes of Covid, some positive and some negative – we need to be alert to the latter and work to minimise them as soon as we can.
A recent report by recruiter Robert Walters draws attention to the complex nature of the Covid effect on women at work. Robert Walters Salary Survey 2021 [based on the views of 2,000 UK professionals] finds, based on figures covering the end of 2020 that while men were more likely to say they had been made redundant due directly to Covid – with women more likely to be made redundant for reasons other than Covid, women were more likely to have taken time out for personal, health or professional reasons [20% of women had done this versus 8% of men].
The survey showed over half (58%) of professionals would like to move to full-time remote working in 2021 and that flexible working was one of the top factors valued by employees. Interestingly, however, the men surveyed were more likely to favour full-time remote working while women were more keen on working around 50% from home. Men were also more likely to say Covid had had a negative impact on their career [42% versus 37% of women] which fits with the redundancy figures, but women were less likely to say it had had a positive impact [6% versus 12%]. And women were significantly more likely not to be sure what impact it would have on their career. Women were also more likely to say they were currently looking for a new job than men.
We’re still in the middle of the storm and the impact of the second lockdown will not be clear for some time. So many of the options we face are about the least worst outcome rather than the best one – trying to keep as many people in jobs, in homes, not starving, alive, as possible. The immediate threats demand our urgent attention, but we have also to keep an eye out for longer term damage and do our best to mitigate the impact.