For most of us, 2022 has been a year of ups and downs, and that includes women in the workplace, who have seen victories and losses in the campaign for equality.
In 2022 we’ve seen progress on some issues, and flexible working is still mainstream, which has helped the pandemic “shecession” to fade.
Importantly, there’s been support to help them stay in their jobs. The government has just allocated £1.97m to help women with reproductive health issues in the workplace, and – thanks to an increased awareness of the menopause and its impact – more than 600 businesses have signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge.
On the downside, Liz Truss didn’t do much for the status of women leaders, the exorbitant cost of childcare is still seen as a problem for individuals, not society, and the looming recession is seriously threatening to set equality back a decade.
Too often, women are the losers in tough economic times. We over-index on redundancies, and this trend will be made worse if old-fashioned views on presenteeism come creeping back as people worry about keeping their jobs.
If we don’t watch out, companies are in danger of reverting to old, unconscious biases towards a more antiquated and typically male leadership style – even though we know that women over-index on qualities like collaboration, empathy, inclusivity and motivation, which are the measure of the best leaders.
It looks like Covid and the economic crisis has hardened old assumptions about the roles of women at work, while in the US, the questioning of a woman’s rights to choose what happens to her own body is having an impact on respect for female autonomy in all aspects of life.
Shocking new data from The Reykjavik Index for Leadership shows that trust in women leaders has fallen markedly in the past year.
Fewer than half (47%) of the respondents in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US said they were “‘very comfortable” having a woman as CEO of a major company in their country, down from 54% a year earlier.
Everybody’s under pressure and it’s hard to make money, but we must hold on to the progress we have fought so hard for. With this in mind, I’ve compiled, with help from some fellow Wacl members, a list of hopes for 2023.
The pandemic proved that presenteeism doesn’t mean productivity and it proved that a new hybrid model of working can be effective. Let’s remember that in 2023.
Jess Lovell co-founder and chief strategy officer, Wonderhood Studios: “We need to ensure that the lessons of the great flexible working pandemic experiment are enshrined into our working practices of the future.
“Flexibility is more than just a lifestyle choice; it has a critical role to play in attracting and retaining talent, it is cornerstone of creating an inclusive workplace, and it has active benefits for productivity.”
A recent McKinsey report on women in the workplace shows that too many female leaders, faced with micro-aggressions, are jumping ship.
Nishma Patel Robb, senior director, brand and reputation marketing, Google UK, and vice-president, Wacl: “Women don’t want to be treated as one homogeneous group, but respected for their intersectionality. I feel personally very strongly about this, particularly when I look at the lack of senior brown and black female talent still failing to get the top jobs.
“Active male allyship will be critical in retaining and supporting women to continue their progress. Active engagement and support is needed, not just cheerleaders at the side. ”
When flexible working comes under threat, childcare issues and costs become even more acute.
Jemima Monies, outgoing chief marketing and operations officer, Adam & Eve/DDB: “As we head into recession, it has never been more vital to fix the UK’s broken childcare system.
“A recent report from Save the Children and the Institute for Research on Public Policy outlined how free early years childcare would increase household incomes by £13bn, deliver annual returns of £8bn to the Government, and slash social security spending by £2.8bn.”
We’ve reached a social tipping point around the menopause; women feel able to speak out about it, and we must keep up this momentum if we are to retain experienced female talent.
Helen Normoyle, co-founder, My Menopause Centre: “What we need to see in the year ahead is action, impact and progress, not just pledges. And if you are doing something that works, share it.”
Economic crisis is putting our progress under threat. In 2023, we must work to protect the gains we have made.
Dawn Paine, co-founder, Aurora Creative Agency: “We are always optimistic about the huge opportunity for women to play a crucial role in helping re-shape business and society.
"But equally we are acutely aware of the often endemic barriers that can prevent that. Businesses need to double down even harder to enable female talent to flourish.”
Our lives have been challenged and changed over the last couple of years, but it’s clear that it will take even longer to overturn some of the deep-seated societal norms that have held women back over the centuries.
We must keep working to maintain momentum in 2023. It will be a year when almost all businesses will be faced with decisions that they’d rather not have to make, and we need to make sure that women’s progress is not annihilated in the process.
If we keep our eye on all the above, we can move forward together, with compassion and towards the equality that will benefit the whole of society.
Rania Robinson is president of Wacl and chief executive of Quiet Storm