Last March we entered a national lockdown for three weeks, one year later, and no one could have predicted the huge impact that 2020 would have had worldwide. From office workers to school children, everyone has had to learn a new way of working, living, and learning. For parents, this has created a fresh struggle of juggling family life with working full time.
More likely to bear the brunt of these childcare responsibilities are working women. Therefore, the past year has had an especially huge impact on the mental health of many women around the country. In light of this, we have spoken with several women in the technology sector who have given us their personal insight into the impact of the past year and the learnings we should ensure we apply to the future.
The pressure of the pandemic
Nicole Sahin, Founder and CEO of AI-driven talent platform, Globalization Partners, believes that the pandemic increased work pressure, particularly for women: “The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, who have borne the brunt of extra childcare and lost jobs in greater numbers than men. Indeed, according to international institutions, including the UN and the World Economic Forum, the pandemic could set women’s economic progress back half a century.”
Moving forward, Sahin wants employers to prioritise equality across every aspect of the organisation to ensure women’s progress is accelerated: “This begins with hiring diverse teams, nurturing female talent, and making sure boardrooms have an equal mix of men and women. I’m proud to say that currently, about half of my senior management team are women, and it is encouraging to see other great women progressing at an accelerated pace.”
Reflecting on her own experience throughout the lockdown, Charlotte Fettes, Data Scientist at the strategic advisory firm, Mango Solutions, discusses the return to normal and what this may bring for women: “For single mums during lockdown, all the mental pressure, education provision, and keeping up with work is placed solely on them.
“Going forward, without the pressure of home-schooling, remote working could definitely provide that additional flexibility and improve work-related communications. However, as work makes up most of a lot of women’s social interactions, there is the risk that a complete shift towards remote working may actually increase isolation, which could be quite detrimental to a work-life balance.
“There is also the additional expectation from colleagues that because you are working remotely, you can work whenever necessary, and as your home environment also becomes your work environment, work encroaches on all other aspects of life. Let us be cautious in taking an either/or approach to the work model adopted in future and make sure there are options available as a work-life balance will be achievable by different means for different people.”
Reflecting on the past year and assessing the impact
Senior Director of EMEA Marketing at data protection firm, Commvault, Tulin Green, agrees that the pandemic could have a detrimental impact on gender equality: “As we approach a year of lockdown, the potential impact of COVID-19 on gender equality continues to be a huge topic; apparently 70% of all health and social-services staff globally are women. So, it’s women who are bearing the brunt of holding societies together during the pandemic, be it in healthcare, social care, education, and at home.
“For women who work in tech industries, I think they have likely been impacted in the same way as women in other industries who are working from home, trying to juggle work with home life, and for those with school-aged children, also juggling everything with homeschooling.”
The impact on mental health during the pandemic has been seen clearly in working mothers, and Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at E-learning firm, Skillsoft believes that “women have shouldered the heaviest burden during the pandemic, with working mothers juggling childcare, homeschooling, and increased work stressors. Indeed, research shows that almost half of working mothers (49%) said their mental health had been negatively impacted by the lockdowns, while 59% said it had declined during the pandemic overall.”
To make sure that working mothers aren’t pushed out of the workforce entirely, Nowakowska believes that organisations must do more to recognise this issue and offer much-needed support:
“Employers should demonstrate empathy and understanding of individual circumstances in order to ease the pressure. In lockdown and beyond, women play a crucial role in the workforce and by not offering adequate support, employers are putting the productivity, wellbeing, and retention of working mothers on the line.”
Looking forward and advice for the future
Michelle Fitzgerald, Director at value stream management platform, Plutora believes that working remotely during a pandemic has put a spotlight on the benefits of engaging with colleagues in-person: “Without being able to travel into an office or grab a casual lunch, we’ve had to get creative in how we build and maintain our relationships. This year I would encourage women to set aside the time to connect with others, especially other women in their field.
“One great way to do that is to take on a mentorship role while also seeking a mentor for themselves. Having great mentors throughout my career has really helped shape my journey. I have learned so much from others’ experiences and have valued their encouragement to challenge myself. Mentorship is extremely important for growth and those connections are so valuable.”
For young women starting their careers, Fitzgerald wants to let them know that “at the end of the day, it comes down to investing in yourself and connecting with others. Develop the skills you need to get to where you want to be. Then trust in your intuition but be open to asking for help and insight when you need it.”
The return to normal isn’t far off and for young women looking to enter the technology industry, Green provides this advice: “I’d advise young aspiring females who are looking to enter the tech industry to believe in yourself, because if you believe in yourself, then others will too; be eager to learn and find a great female mentor to help you; follow your dreams and power that passion you have in all things tech.”
In the return to the ‘new normal’, businesses must ensure they don’t let the past year damage gender equality. As the pandemic recedes, they have the opportunity to learn from the challenges they’ve faced this past year, and embrace diversity and creativity moving forward.