A woman with dark hair wearing a black polo neck jumper, holding a takeaway coffee cup and smiling off camera.
Gabriela Hersham. Image: Huckletree

The elephant in the room: Gender inequality and Covid-19

17 Sep 2020

Huckletree CEO and co-founder Gabriela Hersham writes about the danger Covid-19 poses to gender equality in the workforce.

As the world begins to press resume on life and working patterns, many employees are understandably keen to return to the office. Right now, there’s a big debate about the death of the workplace, but few are talking about the bigger elephant in the room: could this be a return to a more divided and unequal work experience when people get back in the office?

In those first few weeks, working from home inspired a new world of flexibility and more time awarded to you to focus throughout the day. But now, as we come out of months of looking at the same backdrop and keeping a level of separation between our professional and private personas, the penny has dropped. The structures of work, whether that be at home or at the office, have not adapted for a new working mindset.

We’re by no means out of the woods, but a greater understanding of Covid-19 transmission and improved safety procedures are helping businesses return to the office in a safe and manageable way. This isn’t a luxury afforded to everyone though.

Despite continued progress in workplace equality for women, many women professionals are still primarily responsible for childcare within their families.

‘Every person should have the right to a seat at the table, whether that be physical or virtual’

Outside of a pandemic, women business leaders have worked around this with a combination of flexible working hours, paid childcare and sheer determination. However, Covid-19 has thrown up new challenges when it comes to managing childcare while working from home, and will continue to do so over the next few years.

Ingrained gender roles

I’ve seen improvements over the last decade and am proud to say that I’ve fought for equality and diversity in the workplace myself, both as an individual and in my role running a business that is designed to be a home for entrepreneurs. Having experienced this pandemic as a mother of two young children, I understand first-hand the unique challenges facing many women in leadership positions.

If we aren’t mindful of the challenges faced by people in different situations returning to work, it’s possible that ingrained gender roles will creep back in throughout the recovery. This creates the possibility that we may lose key progress made prior to Covid-19.

With some offices opening part-time before childcare networks and school systems return to normal, it’s likely that many women, as primary carers, may be forced to continue working from home while male colleagues, who are less frequently the primary parent, return to the office.

This is creating a whole new perception of ‘leaving a good impression’, ‘showing up’ and presenteeism – and we are not for it. I don’t think we’re likely to see a return to the Mad Men era, but mindfulness and flexibility are going to be key to ensure that businesses across all sectors continue to provide working environments that encourage everyone to thrive. Companies that speak about inclusion will be put to the test.

This isn’t just the responsibility of business owners. Shared workspace providers and landlords have a responsibility and an incentive to offer flexible, convenient working conditions for all. The way we use space is going to change forever. At Huckletree, we’re already seeing businesses change their space requirements to accommodate more modern workforce needs.

I for one, will ensure that women feel supported to return to work by continuing to support female founders and by working directly with decision makers and executive teams on removing any bias.

This is not about simply offering innovative solutions to meet the needs of a changing market. This is about staring down the elephant in the room and using this point of inflection from Covid-19 to eradicate any imbalances that are part of our new workplace reality. Our hope is to create a space for conscious entrepreneurship and collaboration – and that means every person should have the right to a seat at the table, whether that be physical or virtual.

By Gabriela Hersham

Gabriela Hersham is the CEO and co-founder of co-working space provider Huckletree.

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