This lockdown, women’s careers have been hit hardest: 13 expert tips for future-proofing yours

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  • 'There's a triple burden on women at current: lockdown impacts their workload, career, and mental wellbeing disproportionately.'

    We bought you news of the she-cession in November – that is, when stats showed the female unemployment rate at 17%, compared to 13% for men – and yet, new figures released last week reveal an even further insight into how much female career progression is being hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In short, coronavirus is having a disproportionate impact on working women compared to men.

    Alongside the pressures of homeschooling, childcare, and managing a full-time career from home, working women are facing limited support and sparse resources. Unsurprisingly, many are struggling with their mental health. A recent TUC survey found 90% of women in a survey of over 55,000 felt the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental wellbeing.

    Why? Simply, they’re not getting enough support. A similar poll of 50,000 revealed 71% of working mothers have had furlough requests rejected during this third lockdown, while schools remain closed. Not only that, but a Trades Union Congress (TUC) report revealed that one in four who’ve been pregnant during the pandemic have experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy.

    Once again, it’s mums shouldering the burden of childcare and homeschooling with little support.

    Why are women’s careers being impacted?

    The stats do all the talking, sadly. According to Heart FM presenter, author, and campaigner Anna Whitehouse, it’s not the first time this has happened – far from it. You need only look back to the SARS or Ebola pandemics to see similar patterns.

    “The burden of childcare is still strapped firmly to female shoulders. Women are logging off from careers they’ve built because they’re being asked to do two jobs in one day, which isn’t possible,” she shares.

    “I’m hearing daily from women desperately trying to hang onto a career while raising a family. 47% of mothers have quit or been made redundant in lockdown compared to 13% of men. That speaks volumes,” she continues.

    Business expert Erica Wolfe-Murray agrees, adding that women often have to ‘pick up the slack’ at home. “However much we push for equality, we still end up doing the bulk of the chores and the childcare. A woman’s mental load at home is generally greater than their partners – think school lunches, clean clothes, dental visits, book bag, and more,” she explains.

    Founder and director of the MUTU system, Wendy Powell, believes that both business leaders and the government have a role to play in making it a more even playing field. “From job losses and redundancies, to heightened work-life pressures and anxiety, women (and particularly mothers) are arguably facing the brunt of the COVID-19 fallout when it comes to their career,” the director shares. “There’s a triple burden on women at current: lockdown impacts their workload, career, and mental wellbeing disproportionately.”

    “We are giving the rise of a new glass ceiling for women if we do not urgently implement strategies. Flexible working hours, days, leave, and optional furlough options all need to be implemented. This is not just the role of a business leader, but the government, as well,” she concludes.

    Mums working from home

    13 tips for future-proofing your career

    Find yourself nodding along at the above points and finding it all hit a little too close to home? Don’t worry – you’re not alone, and we’ve enlisted the help of four experts. Keep reading for their top tips on managing home life, work life, and everything in between.

    1. Speak to your partner

    Or so advises Anna. “If you are in a relationship, speak to your partner about flexible furlough. This could mean that you can share the burden of childcare,” she explains.

    2. Put your out of office to good use 

    You likely won’t have heard this one before, but it’s important. “Use an ‘out of office’ to make it clear what your boundaries are,” Anna suggests. “Humanise your need to log off with ‘I’m putting the kids to bed’. There needs to be less shame around existing outside of work,” she emphasises.

    3. Communicate with your manager

    Feeling overwhelmed? Make full use of your communication skills and you’ll at least lighten the weight on your shoulders. “Make it clear to your manager what you’ve got on your plate,” Anna recommends. “Explain that you want to find solutions and do what you can in the time you have, but don’t be afraid to flag if expectations need adjustment.” Hear, hear.

    3. Make full use of HR

    Feel like you can’t speak to your manager? No bother – reach out to HR, instead. “You can use the example of Zurich Insurance giving ten days of paid carers leave in lockdown. Where possible, businesses should be supporting parents right now – specifically women if they don’t want to see their Gender Pay Gap widen,” Anna adds.

    4. Assess your situation

    Simple, but important, according to Erica. “Carefully assess your situation,” she advises. “Make sure you’ve gathered all the relevant facts so that you have a clear picture as to what is happening, and how it is impacting you.” This will help you to see the situation from an unbiased viewpoint and further assess your options.

    5. Talk about your situation

    Talking nearly always helps a problem. “Start by showing the facts that you have gathered to your partner and ensuring they understand they need to share the mental load. When you’ve done that as above, it’s always worth talking to your employer,” Erica shares. “Ask if they are aware of the situation and ask how – between you – this can be resolved. You want to contribute your best to the company – they do too, so how can this be balanced together? Make a plan, implement it, review it, and tweak if needs be,” she advises.

    6. Don’t be afraid of going backwards

    This one’s a good one. Erica recommends going through your past career to see if there are any roles, clients, or business activities that you can re-purpose inventively to help your career now. Every little helps.

    7. Find a mentor

    Finding an experienced mentor or coach who can help you see the bigger picture will no doubt offer invaluable career insight, Erica explains. “They will look to support you as you address the issues you are facing,” she shares.

    8. Don’t beat yourself up

    “Taking care of the home and your children is a full-time job,” Hatti Suvari, Consumer Advocate and host of Get Legally Speaking podcast explains. “If home schooling isn’t’ going as swimmingly well as you may wish, then don’t beat yourself up about it. Parents are not teachers and you are doing your best amongst millions of parents who are in the same boat as you,” she shares.

    We couldn’t agree more.

    9. Try not to stress the things you can’t control

    Currently furloughed and worrying not being at work will hold you back from promotion and progress? Hatti reckons when life returns to normal, your employer will be as keen to get going as you. “You’ll probably find you’ll be rolling up your sleeves sooner than you know it,” she adds.

    10. Avoid isolation

    This one from Wendy is important. When you’re struggling with your mental health, you can convince yourself that you’re alone in your struggles. Know this – you’re not, and getting support will only make matters better.

    “The key is to avoid isolation,” she shares. “Ask for help and pull in on the resources around you. Plus, it’s worth staying hot on knowing your rights with regard to work.” If relevant for you, she advises checking out Pregnant Then Screwed, offering support and advice for women who’ve faced pregnancy discrimination.

    11. Stand strong

    Another one that you might need to hear right now. “Don’t ever let yourself be bullied on a deadline. Instead, counter with a realistic alternative – if you can’t do it, say you can’t. ‘I can’t do it by Monday but will have it with you by Tuesday’ is not unreasonable in most scenarios. Simply be realistic about what can do,” Wendy advises.

    12. Practice self-care

    If your work or your child needs you, they need you, but prioritising some time for yourself is important, too. “Everybody is expected to go beyond their limits right now. To do so, you need strength and energy. Even just grabbing five minutes with a cup of tea or going for a walk around the block counts,” she explains.

    Still stuck for what to do? We’ve got a whole guide to self care ideas for you. Enjoy.

    13. Be kind

    And finally, the golden rule: always be kind to yourself, where possible.

    “The world can feel a little scary right now, so try and give yourself a break where possible. There quite literally aren’t enough hours in the day and women are becoming exhausted– it’s as simple as that. So don’t take it out on yourself,” Wendy stresses.

    Got it? Good.

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