Today is International Women’s Day #IWD2021 – an annual opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias, take action for equality, and ultimately make a positive difference to women.
However, the harsh truth is that the last year has not been a good one for women anywhere in the world. Most diversity and equality experts have stated that women have fared badly during this pandemic, and, generally, far worse than men.
As a statement from UN Women read:
“…the COVID-19 pandemic underscores society’s reliance on women both on the front line and at home, while simultaneously exposing structural inequalities across every sphere… In times of crisis, when resources are strained and institutional capacity is limited, women and girls face disproportionate impacts with far-reaching consequences…Hard-fought gains for women’s rights are also under threat.”
In a similar vein, Professor Naila Kabeer, Professor of Gender and Development at LSE stated:
“All crises reveal something important about our societies. COVID-19, more than most, has revealed the underlying conditions of inequality in all our societies and the gender inequalities at the heart of them.”
Gender & COVID 19 Study (LSE)
In fact, in LSE’s ongoing research study entitled Gender & COVID-19, they estimate that globally women are 19% more at risk of job loss than men. Moreover, whether working full time or not, respondents cited taking on more of the burden of childcare, homeschooling, domestic chores, caring for elderly or sick relatives, and volunteering in the community.
As one respondent put it:
“I’d say I’ve got a triple burden, a triple load that my partner that I live with is not picking up any of that slack. I am still sort of managing the shopping, managing the washing, managing cleaning the house, trying to do the home schooling and keep my son entertained and trying to be available all working hours for my employer and to get my work done. And his – his life has changed in the sense he’s working from home, but otherwise it’s not really changed because he’s still working…Whereas my life has changed utterly.”
In the same research study, all mothers with school-aged children discussed increased burden of work during lockdown, with most citing working early in the morning and late at night to get things done.
Understanding the Pandemic’s Impact on Women (Deloitte)
In another survey of nearly 400 working women last October, Deloitte found that:
- 82% said their lives had been negatively disrupted. Of those 70% expressed concerns that their career growth would be limited as a result
- 89% said demands on their personal time and daily routines had changed. Of those 92% said the changes were negative
- The number of women saying they were responsible for 75% or more of caregiving activities had tripled to 49% since the start of the pandemic
- 40% of those experiencing negative shifts said they could not balance work and life commitments
- 40% cited significant consequences to both physical and mental wellbeing.
The Coaching Project’s Own Research
On a smaller, but no less relevant, scale, I spoke to around 20 working women at the end of last year as part of the research for my Resiliency Roadmap pilot programme.
I was genuinely shocked by two key findings:
1. The number of times I heard the word “exhausted.” Almost every woman I spoke to said she was exhausted. Not tired, not drained, exhausted.
The truth is that just dealing with the pandemic was enough to exhaust anyone.
The mental challenge of navigating the radical overnight changes to our working and home lives was huge. Anything new in our lives takes up a lot of mental capacity and energy as we forge new neural pathways in the brain.
The emotional strain of fear, anxiety and stress about the pandemic, health, job security, business survival and finances would have been highly enervating. Our system speeds up when we experience strong survival emotions burning lots more energy.
Add in the additional burdens that women were facing and it’s no wonder they ended the year feeling exhausted.
2. How big an impact the pandemic has had on women’s confidence.
This was a bigger surprise to me, although maybe it shouldn’t have been.
When I asked what the one thing these working women would like most from the course it was greater CONFIDENCE.
Whether still employed, furloughed, redundant, looking for work, or starting out in a new role or company, womens’ confidence seemed to have been crushed by the pandemic.
Fear of losing their job
Fear of not being taken back
Fear of never finding another job
Fear of being found out when they did (good old imposter syndrome!)
Why I Shouldn’t Have Been Surprised
Having worked with hundreds of incredibly competent and talented women over the years, I know that low self-esteem, belief, and hence confidence are hallmarks for many.
However, it is also because exhaustion and a lack of confidence go hand in hand.
If you are feeling exhausted there is no way you will feel that you can cope with what life is throwing at you, and if you don’t feel able to cope, you are hardly going to feel confident!
It’s why one of the definitions of resilience we use at The Coaching Project is:
The innate and confidence-inspiring knowledge that you can cope with whatever life throws at you.
That knowledge engenders self-belief, self-confidence, positive energy, motivation and momentum. It’s a virtuous circle, not a vicious cycle.
Bringing About Change
Clearly, the pandemic has shone a light once again on the gender inequalities in our lives and working systems, and I truly hope rather than being a throwback to the 1950s as some media pundits have suggested, it will mark a step-change in areas such as flexible working, childcare support and more shared responsibility.
However, as a coach, I am mainly interested in what is in your control, and there is a great deal women can do to help themselves and each other.
Here are my top five tips:
- Prioritise self-care. Most women are too focused on others at the expense of themselves. It is bred into us, it is hard to stop, but it is counter-productive. As they always say to parents with kids on aeroplanes: put your own oxygen mask on first. If you run out of oxygen, you’ll be no good to anyone!
- Ask for help at home. Too often we simply carry on doing what we’ve always done. We make our own beds and wonder why we end up lying in them. I know you hate conflict; I know you think it’s easier just to do it all yourself, but you are simply building up resentment and trouble further down the line by not speaking up now. Remember you are not superwoman, you are human!
- Be more assertive at work. Many women I work with worry about being too assertive at work. What will happen if I rock the boat? Will I be the first to go when it’s time for the next round of redundancies? However, if something is not working for you, you need to say so. Honestly, calmly and rationally. If it’s not working for you, it’s not working for the company, because you will not be able to show up as your best self, which is what both you and the company need.
- Show self-compassion. Most women I know and work with are incredibly hard on themselves. Stop beating yourself up. Stop telling yourself you’re not good enough. Stop thinking only 10/10 will do. Give yourself a break. Speak to yourself like you would speak to your best friend – with kindness, empathy and compassion. You’ll be amazed by the impact this has.
- Own your strengths & achievements. Too many women fail to recognise or celebrate their own strengths, often putting their success down to luck or serendipity. The truth is that you are way better than you think you are – at everything! Big yourself up, don’t make yourself small or hide your light under a bushel.
Thus, on International Women’s Day 2021 I hope that all employers and organisations will act on the lessons COVID-19 has taught us about the enormous gender inequalities that exist in our lives and wider systems.
I hope partners, husbands and male colleagues will reflect on the additional burdens that women face and consider ways to help and share the load more equally.
But I also hope beyond hope that women will use this day as a catalyst for change: to rise up out of the shadows, to speak out, to ensure they are seen, heard and valued at home and at work, and that most of all they respect themselves, their strengths and achievements, whilst treating themselves with the kindness and compassion they so truly deserve.
#IWD2021 #genderinequality #femaleconfidence #resilience
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article or find out more about The Resiliency Roadmap programme which aims to help busy professional women improve their underlying resilience so that they can support themselves and others through challenging times with renewed energy, confidence and optimism, please e-mail email@example.com or call Theresa on 07740 030677 to discuss your needs.