Fears over gender diversity as firms return

Businesses need to ensure that years of progress on gender diversity are not rowed back in a bid to emerge out of the pandemic, according to the boss of a leading women’s business network.

Griselda Togobo, managing director of Forward Ladies.

Griselda Togobo, managing director of Forward Ladies, says that women have already been discriminated against since the outbreak of Covid-19.

She told The Yorkshire Post: “Women are twice as likely to have lost their job either through furlough, being made redundant or simply having to leave their jobs because of the need to look after their families – carer responsibilities and home schooling.

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“That’s already been happening over the past few months. Women have already been significantly disadvantaged.”

Hannah Strawbridge.

The Forward Ladies boss believes that there needs to be structural changes in the workplace to ensure women are not discriminated against unfairly.

She said : “Usually in two income families, it is the woman who has to bear the brunt of the housework and care responsibilities.

“Statistics show us the man is more likely to be earning more than the woman. We know that from the gender pay gap studies and also from the fact that more men are in leadership positions and in more senior positions than women.

“When you hit a crisis and somebody has to take on the burden of unpaid work, it tends to be the person who is earning the least amount of money. From a pure economics perspective, women will have to take up that burden.

“One way to solve this is to level the playing field in the workplace and give more women the opportunity to step into leadership roles because when partners are earning the same income then it’s more likely that they will split the housework equitably.”

A drive to return people back to offices will pose its own set of challenges for women who have largely been taking on the bulk of care responsibilities.

Many, who are looking after elderly relatives of children, will feel “compelled to stay at home” as that’s what their family needs right now

“They will be discriminated against if employers approach this with a very hard line without concern for individual cases,” Ms Togobo says.

She added that businesses need to engage with their female employees to see what works for them best as firms begin returning to offices.

Halifax-based lawyer Hannah Strawbridge says she sees no reason for people who have proven that they can work productively from home to be given the opportunity to carry on doing so if they wish.

“As long as they can show that it’s not detrimental to the business, then why shouldn’t that individual choose,” she said. Ms Strawbridge set up her own legal business a year ago after becoming frustrated at a lack of flexibility from law firms to enable her to work from home so that she could also look after her young children.

The lawyer says it will be interesting to see whether there is a rise in flexible working applications from women if businesses start to force them back into offices.

Businesses would have to consider the application and base their decisions on a number of grounds, she added. “If they try to say that it’s a lack of productivity then they’re going to really struggle,” Ms Strawbridge said. “That could be a potential claim for that individual. I’m not sure if businesses have considered this.”

She concedes that it’s not “black and white” and that some will want to return to offices and there’s a whole economy around the office but feels that it should be about individual choice.

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James Mitchinson