Monday, March 8, marked International Women’s Day. A day for seeking out and celebrating the successes of women everywhere.

This year’s theme focused on challenging the status quo to raise awareness and call out acts of gender bias and inequality. It’s a pertinent theme when considered alongside reports of the disproportionate impact coronavirus has had on women in the workplace.

Latest data from LinkedIn suggests that as many as 40 per cent of 20,000 + women surveyed feel their career has been set back or put on hold because of the pandemic.

The vaccine rollout continues to give hope that the coronavirus health crisis is coming to an end, but a subsequent crisis is also in desperate need of attention. International Women’s Day posed important conversation starters on gender inequality. It will, however, take a continued effort to get many women back into work and level the playing field with men.

To raise awareness, we want to keep those important conversations going, whilst helping to create and maintain equal opportunities for women at work.

Why have women’s jobs been hardest hit by the pandemic?

People everywhere will have felt the repercussions of the health crisis, but there are a number of contributing factors as to why working women in particular have been set back.

Industries that employ a high proportion of women, such as retail, tourism and hospitality have been especially curtailed by lockdown restrictions and have thus experienced a sharp decline in demand.

Women typically occupy more part-time jobs which were at risk of furlough. Many women also left work or took a career break due to increasing pressures on the family. From childcare and homeschooling to domestic chores, this build-up of “unpaid work” is like a full-time job, which the UN reports, women are bearing the brunt of.

Additionally, working fathers are often met with bias when they seek flexible working hours to help the family, and many still hold the breadwinner title due to the gender pay gap. Financially speaking, this arrangement means that families have had no choice but to rely on men staying in work.

A setback for women is a setback for all

The progression made by dedicated women’s rights groups is at risk. Since 2017, businesses with more than 250 employees have had to publish their gender pay gap data by law. However they were not required to do so for 2020.

Under representation of women in the workplace can not only widen the pay gap, setting back decades of work on equal rights, but it can impact a business in many other ways.

Equal gender representation is an important contributor to an inclusive workplace culture. Gender-equal businesses have a better chance of cultivating a happier, more productive workforce.

Broadening the backgrounds and life experiences of a workforce, women have valuable contributions to bring to the table. However this is only possible when gender stereotypes are removed and there is equal opportunity.

Making a difference day-to-day

The good news is that there are ways in which employers can help reverse the damage done to so many working women by the pandemic.

Through family friendly policies, increased flexibility and equal chances for skills training and promotion, employers can create opportunities, rebuild confidence, and get women back into meaningful paid employment.

Hope for the future

Amidst the chaos of the past year we have seen that, given the opportunity, there is no limit to what women can achieve. When Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first female Vice President of the United States, mid-pandemic, she left the door open by saying “I may be the first woman in this office, but I won’t be the last”.