publishes white paper on the impact of Covid on women at work has published a white paper based on a recent virtual roundtable with leading employers focused on the impact of Covid-19 on women in the workplace.

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Introduction held a virtual roundtable on October 13th to bring together employers and outside experts to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on women in the workforce and ways to mitigate that impact. 

The roundtable was hosted by Gillian Nissim, founder of, who cited a recent report from McKinsey and which showed increased levels of redundancy, dropout and downshifting among women in the US in the face of Covid. It highlighted how many employers were not doing enough to recognise the extent of the problem, for instance, they were not looking at their performance review criteria to accommodate double shifts. It was important, the report said, for employers to be aware of the nature of the impact on women and to track what is happening in order to mitigate any challenges. With the gender pay gap audit process stalled, Nissim asked how employers could ensure they don’t end up going backwards and losing some of the progress they have made up to now.

Gender diversity: employer experiences

Employers had gone through very different experiences of Covid-19. Some had seen business increase, while others had had to close down temporarily and some were still facing restrictions.

Many had already been working hard on gender diversity pre-Covid and had seen some success. Some in traditionally male-dominated sectors reported a big increase in graduate intake of women. One said they had an 85% female intake this year. Support from senior managers was vital as was getting senior women to talk about their experiences. The company has also been sharing stories about how people have been coping during the pandemic and one story about a working mum had been the most interacted with ever.  More people were joining its parents and carers group and a new system was being put in place to track how many employees were parents and carers so they could support them better.

Another employer in a traditionally male sector spoke of its progress towards its target for more female employees, but said many women were in office positions. It was using STEM ambassadors as a way of trying to increase the number of women in engineering positions. 

Another employer which had traditionally seen a lot more men engaging with the brand on social media than women, had now flipped that and had 52% of engagement from women. They had made progress in D & I, but spoke of pockets of the organisation where there were more challenges. They were sharing stories of women in these areas and looking at increasing the support they offered to returners, parents and carers. The business had been hit hard by Covid, but there was a lot of positivity and engagement and people had pulled together and helped each other, for instance, younger employees had covered parents’ shifts if they were homeschooling. 

Another employer spoke of being hard hit by Covid and having to focus on survival. However, they had made a lot of progress on changing the culture and on D & I, particularly when it came to apprentices and graduates.  HR was making sure that hiring managers were continuing to get those messages. 

Other employers were facing challenging structural changes. One financial services employer spoke of a focus on digital transformation and said this was being done with a D & I and well being lens.  The switch to homeworking had happened quickly, with 10,000 laptops being provided to employees in the first weeks. Being able to see into people’s homes made people feel more able to be themselves and made people feel they knew each other more quickly. 

Another had acquired another business just prior to lockdown so had had to integrate the businesses. It had done a working from home trial in February and had been able to iron out any problems before lockdown. They had also ensured interview panels were diverse, giving senior female managers interview experience across different regions to increase their confidence. Some regions had more challenges than others when it came to D & I and they had to take a tailored approach to each region.

Several employers spoke of the work they were doing to ensure some of the benefits that had come out of more flexible and remote working were maintained after Covid. 

Other employers have seen a big focus on Diversity and Inclusion over the last months. One employer spoke of increased investment in making the recruitment process fairer and more transparent and a big appetite for change. It had launched a new careers site and made job adverts shorter and more accessible. The employer, which has a very senior job share and has made several top female appointments,  is also sharing stories of diverse employees and is trying to be more informal in the remote hiring process to take the pressure off. They are using asynchronous interviewing where people can pre-record their responses at a time that suits them. Candidates are given the questions before the interview. This has had a positive effect. A new team had been set up to focus on digital roles, with one aim being to upskill people into the roles and train apprentices. 

Other employers in the food sector had seen an increase in activity during Covid. One spoke of how it had launched a grassroots D & I group and D & I ambassadors as well as formal policies and plans with lead sponsors. They had also partnered with Mind on well being last year and that had continued during the pandemic. They have positive mind ambassadors too and are tackling the issue from the top down and the bottom up. They felt they were at a turning point on D & I.

Another has put a big emphasis on mental well being.  They have a global task force to support mental health. They said the pandemic has highlighted the extent of mental health issues, particularly among younger workers. They had made significant steps forward on D & I since before Covid, appointing D & I champions.

Mental well being was a big theme during Covid. An employer which had had to furlough many staff during lockdown spoke of the need to stay connected and of a big increase in interest in mental health webinars. It was keen to hold onto the positives that had come from Covid around flexible working, engagement, virtual recruitment and on-boarding. 

The challenges facing parents during lockdown were discussed by several employers. One said they had given parents the flexible tools they needed to restructure their working day, for instance, putting on events to support parents in the evening and daytime so that they catered to different working patterns. Meetings had been shortened which made it easier for parents who were also looking after young children. Children had come on calls and they had normalised this through senior managers talking about it and sharing their experiences. They had also provided back to school support through a well being expert to ease parents’ anxiety. They had also reviewed their maternity process and how they bring people back from leave and had mapped where employees were based in line with lockdown measures in that area so they could provide better support. People had also been encouraged to be kind and to support each other.

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Plugging the value gap

Diana Parkes of Women’s Sat Nav to Success spoke of her own experience of hitting the glass ceiling twice and how that had led to her work on identifying strategies that enable women to succeed in the workplace. Over the last four years her organisation has published an annual survey about employee engagement and how this links with their motivation to progress. Covid-19 has made access to employers more difficult given many HR managers have been furloughed and there is great financial uncertainty. Her research has uncovered a significant gender gap between employee contribution and their sense of that contribution being valued. Typically there was a 17% contribution:value gap for women – 70% said they were contributing consistently versus 53% who felt that contribution was valued. 

When they start their career men and women are more or less level. However, when they move into middle management the gap falls to 3% for men while it increases to 27% for women. This affects their confidence and self belief and their ability to succeed when they put themselves forward. They are still pitching for opportunities and more stretching work as they know that is important for progression, she said, but the outcome results in higher levels of engagement and motivation to progress for men. In senior leadership the contribution to value gap remains wide for women (18%)  and negligible for men (2%).

The challenge, said Parkes, is to develop deliberate habits of giving balanced attention to all employees. Unconscious bias training doesn’t change the way the brain works, she stated.  Employers need to be more deliberate about who they are excluding because they value them less. 

She added that mentoring did not seem to have a significant benefit for increasing women’s motivation to progress. Many people were mentored by their line manager and there could be an agenda there. Mentoring had to be done better or not at all, she said. Sponsorship by a senior manager, however, was more promising, although fewer women were being sponsored. Employers needed to think more broadly about employee potential. With more couples sharing domestic duties equally, women had more motivation to progress, she said. Supporting sharing caring responsibilities was really paying off.


UBS spoke about how they had changed the structure of their returner programme. Before there had been a two-week onboarding programme with everyone starting at the same time. They have now moved to an any time model which is more flexible and suits the situation during Covid. New joiners get one to one coaching and when three or more returners have joined through the Career Comeback programme they form a cohort, getting access to virtual group coaching sessions where they work through challenges or themes that are common among returners. Once a year, returners from across regions are brought together for intensive career coaching over two days, where there is also an opportunity to network and talk about their experiences. Being in a larger group means there will be more people that they can link up with who have been through similar experiences.

Candidates who have taken a career break of two or more years are invited to apply directly to jobs – every job at director or above level is open to the Career Comeback programme and all candidates are asked basic questions at application that would identify their programme eligibility. They are then put in a pool and could be potentially matched against any open role in future. Successful hires are now being virtually onboarded and are allocated a desk buddy within their team who they can speak to on a daily basis. Every month they have access to an educational webinar or a virtual business insights learning session with a senior manager.

Key takeaways

    • Focus on the contribution:value gap for middle managers and on recognising everyone’s contribution
    • Use sponsors over mentors
    • Get senior buy-in for D & I initiatives
    • Share individual stories from a diverse selection of employees
    • Encourage employees to set up parent and carer networks and use them to channel ideas about what support would be most useful to senior managers
    • Consider creating STEM ambassadors to do outreach work with women
    • Make job adverts less wordy and more transparent 
    • When recruiting remotely consider using asynchronous interviews where people can pre-record their answers at a time that suits them
    • In a situation where parents may be managing home and caring simultaneously, consider shortening meetings and provide any support in a way that can be accessed by parents working flexible schedules
    • Foreground mental well being and consider partnering with an outside organisation
    • Provide returner support through a programme that focuses on creating a cohort, networking and providing access to senior figures in the organisation
    • Support that programme with ongoing coaching and buddies

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