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Women in Financial Services in the danger zone

Coronavirus is hurting working mums’ careers and poses a threat to corporate reputation and performance, according to Geraldine Gallacher, CEO of the Executive Coaching Consultancy.

November 2020

New research from McKinsey is unlikely to come as a surprise to working mums with school-age children. Coronavirus has increased many households’ domestic load to the point that 1 in 4 women are considering stepping back or leaving their career entirely. Senior-level women, more than women at other levels, say they feel burned out from the overwhelming demands at work and home. This group is the most likely to have children.

Unequal distribution of domestic labour is the biggest threat to women’s careers today. Working mums were only able to do one hour of uninterrupted paid work for every three hours done by dads during lockdown (Institute of Fiscal Studies, 2020). Schools and nurseries may be open, but mothers are still three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for the majority of housework and childcare. And twice as likely as dads to worry that their work performance is being judged negatively because of their caregiving responsibilities.

We need to stop framing childcare as a barrier to female career progression

The issue presents as a problem that affects women, but the root cause is a lingering hangover of traditional attitudes toward childcare at a senior level in many organisations.Instead of expecting mothers will shoulder the burden of childcare, organisations need to start asking how work and care can be shared more equitably across both parents. And encourage policies which facilitate this. It is in their best interest to do so.

A backward step in diversity is a risk to corporate reputation and performance

If left unchecked, Coronavirus will set back progress in gender diversity by over a decade as a staggering two million women are lost from the workforce. This isn’t a problem forward-thinking boards can afford to write off as collateral damage from the pandemic. A backwards step in gender diversity is a risk to corporate reputation and financial performance.

Investors are exercising their voting rights to ensure fund managers don’t invest in organisations whose boards aren’t gender-balanced. Consumers are calling out brands for jumping on the diversity bandwagon while their own boards remain resolutely white and male. On the upside, organisations led by gender-balanced teams are more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to demonstrate superior value creation (McKinsey, 2018). Women-managed funds outperform all male rivals and mixed gender teams outperformed all-male teams (Goldman Sachs, 2020).

As women step back, so the organisation’s talent pool, nurtured over years, will shrink. Employers will not be able to close the gender pay gap or sustainably create gender-diverse leadership unless they create a culture where childcare is no longer a gendered issue. This will become a legacy issue with a long sting in its tail for employers that fail to effectively address the problem.

Working fathers are key to a sustainable solution

Employers need to do all they can to ensure the workplace takes a non-gendered approach to childcare through policy and normalises dads sharing childcare in practice.; And that means venturing where few organisations dare to tread, behind closed doors. Encourage parents to understand a dual-career as a joint venture. Provide professional support to help new parents anticipate the adjustments they will need to make to share equally work and care and negotiate how to make this a reality.   And having got off on the right foot, provide the support to help them renegotiate priorities and approaches in line with the support their child needs from them as they grow. Teenagers often need their parents more than toddlers.

Geraldine Gallacher, CEO, ECC

London Accountant

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