Game Over For Women’s Equality In The Workplace?
Photography by KEVIN MUELLER
Game Over For Women’s Equality In The Workplace?
Photography by KEVIN MUELLER
Anna Jones discusses the detrimental impact Covid has had on working women and how this poses problems for female visibility in senior leadership positions. To overcome this, AllBright have launched their new development program AllBright Elevator in the hope for equal representation at the top.

Anyone reading the headlines recently would be forgiven for thinking that women’s equality could become a thing of the past. 

Throughout the pandemic, women have been taking up the slack for childcare and household chores. In addition to the ongoing gender pay gap women are now facing huge financial and career uncertainty as we veer towards mass unemployment, with female-heavy sectors facing the biggest job cuts. The situation for women’s careers is so precarious that the looming recession has even been dubbed the “shecession”. 

At AllBright, throughout lockdown, we held over 300 online talks and events and the single biggest fear from the thought-leaders we hosted was that all the progress we’ve made in recent years towards levelling the playing field for pay, opportunity and leadership representation for women will recede as we focus on rebuilding the economy.

Although progress had been made before Covid-19 hit, the visibility of women in senior leadership positions simply wasn’t good enough. There were only 37 female CEOs in this year’s Fortune 500 list and there are currently only 5 female CEO’s in the UK’s FTSE 100. Women lead just 17% of the 5.8 million private sector SMEs in the UK.

This lack of female representation isn’t just at the very top, it’s also an issue at C and VP level - those executive roles making decisions every day about how a company operates - where only 1 in 6 is female. It is hard to comprehend this given that research shows that companies with the most diverse ‘C-suites’ are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability.

This isn’t just an issue for visibility – it’s an issue for performance, for productivity for profit. It’s about our corporate structures reflecting the society we live in. There has never been a more important time for diverse points of view across sectors and industries. Now, more than ever, we need to be listening. 

So, how do we ensure we continue to make progress in changing these statistics? Having been in a minority position as a woman at the top of a large corporate, I know the answer is multi-faceted. There is the issue of getting there in the first place; having at your fingertips the knowledge, tools and confidence you need to smash the glass ceiling, and then,  when you’re there, the support you need to thrive.

An upcoming study from the US has found evidence of an unconscious bias against female leaders that is most pronounced during economic crises. The study analysed 50,000 board elections from 1,100 publicly listed companies over a 12-year period, and found that shareholders were far more likely to withdraw support for a female director compared to a male director during a time of crisis. 

This isn’t just an issue for visibility – it’s an issue for performance, for productivity for profit. It’s about our corporate structures reflecting the society we live in.

This unconscious bias is something that most women will experience at some point in our careers, and it’s vital we have the tools to be able to counteract it. That’s where AllBright comes in. 

AllBright has always been committed to helping women reach their professional potential by providing network, inspiration and practical support, but women at senior levels face a specific set of issues. This is why we are thrilled to be launching AllBright Elevator, our new development programmes aimed at helping senior leaders achieve their potential and take the next step in their careers.

The Elevator programmes, one for those in or moving into C-suite roles and one for those looking at Board level positions are done in small cohorts, meaning participants will gain unprecedented opportunities to connect with like-minded women over the course of a year. The programmes mix one on one coaching with technical masterclasses, workshops and curated resources - all the things I wish I’d had as I rose to department head then into C-suite roles and before I’d joined a Board. 

You can’t underestimate the importance of professional development and a network to learn with and from. It can be lonely at the top, but it doesn’t need to be.

As Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn told me when I interviewed her a few weeks ago: “There’s so many different times a supportive sisterhood is useful… You need people, as mentors, who are going to speak the truth to you.” 

It’s true that coronavirus has put a halt to many people’s career plans. By the end of June, 9.4 million workers in the UK had been furloughed, and experts are predicting a tidal wave of unemployment when the scheme ends in October, but this is also a time of opportunity - for us as individuals, and also for the economy overall. With awareness, positive action and the support of the sisterhood, we can achieve our career ambitions and we can ensure we continue on the path to levelling the playing field.

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