This is the first blog in a series of three, exploring the opportunity that we currently have to “build back better” for women at work.
This first blog explores the unique confluence of events that has created this opportunity to build back better. The second blog will question what we need to let go in order to be open to change. And the third will examine what we might do to seize this opportunity to radically shift gender equity.
Exploring the Opportunity
We have an unprecedented opportunity to make a radical step-change for women at work. We may all be a little fatigued by the constant use of the phrase “Build Back Better” by politicians and the media. But conditions in the workplace have precipitated the need to change. They have provided us with the opportunity for a transformative shift in gender equity in the workplace.
We know that an imbalance already existed between women and men in the world of work pre 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated this inequality. Recent statistics from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) show that whilst men’s employment will have recovered to 2019 levels, there will be 13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019. Only 43.2 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 68.6 per cent of working-age men.
This backwards step for women has been dubbed “The She-cession”. And that’s because, although projected jobs growth in 2021 for women is expected to exceed that of men, it will not be enough to bring women back to pre-pandemic employment levels. And this imbalance is predicted to persist into the near future.
This regression comes at a significant cost. First, it is a cost to world economics. McKinsey estimates that global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men. And secondly, it costs women, individually. Oxfam reports that the COVID-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries.
On top of the “She-cession”, layer in what the media is dubbing as “The Great Resignation”.
Data that shows that around 40 per cent of the global workforce are considering leaving their current employer in the next year, with 46 percent planning to make a major pivot or career transition. Nearly half (45%) of HR decision makers say they are worried that staff will leave.
And the opportunities to leave are growing. UK government statistics alone report a record high of 953,000 job vacancies in May to July 2021, and it is a similar story in other nations.
That’s potentially a lot of people washing around in the labour market. And a lot of jobs for them to choose from.
We must choose to build back better
Yet The She-cession plus The Great Resignation together provide us with a perfect storm of conditions. They might just mobilise us to drive a “She-bound”. To change the face of women’s employment for better – not just immediately, but for a long time to come.
Two broad choices sit before us:
- We can keep doing what we’ve always done, and allow women’s employment to, hopefully, slowly climb back to pre-COVID levels. Think of it like taking the same blocks we’ve used before, but stacked in a different way. We’ll feel better, but nothing much will change for women.
- Or we can choose to “Build Back Better”. To do that we must change our approach, our tactics and our leadership in ways that are radical and different. That’s more like choosing new blocks of different shapes, sizes and colours to create our future.
Order, disorder and reorder
Choosing new blocks requires radical thinking and radical doing. Radical change.
For millennia, we have learned that change is uncomfortable. There are necessary ordeals to face, demons to exorcise and treasures to find along the way. At Becoming, our work draws on the archetypal three phases of a change process: moving from order, to disorder and then to reorder.
- Order is about making sense of the situation and ourselves right now. It’s about starting in square one, right where we are planted (not where we wish we might be). This blog has examined the current “order”. Appraising the landscape of a post-pandemic field of women’s employment highlights both the She-cession and The Great Resignation. Checking where we are shouts out, “there is an opportunity!”
- Disorder is concerned with stepping into the unknown, accepting the challenge to lift stones, think differently, and be bold. It takes courage to stay in the phase of disorder. It’s uncomfortable to unravel our thinking and behaviour gender equity. Our second blog will do this: examine what we need to unravel so that we are open to this opportunity.
- Reorder is discovering the new order. What can we do to rebuild in a radical and different way. How can we create a new understanding of women and men and what they are capable of at work. Our third blog will explore this question: what might we do radically differently? How can we seize this opportunity to build back better? How can we generate a “She-bound” that fundamentally shifts gender equity in the workplace.
Share your views
This series of three blogs is published in advance of our upcoming Safe Space event on Thursday 21 October.
To share your views on this opportunity to build back better – please complete our survey
To debate and discuss the opportunity with peers from across HR, Talent & D&I – please register for our Safe Space event.