Ensuring equal opportunities are at the heart of our new everyday

By Brenda Canavan, Sales Engineer, Virgin Media Business
Writing for Women In Business NI last month, my colleague Seamus McCorry said, “the scope is there for us to bounce back (from COVID-19), but only if we ensure equal opportunities for a balanced, modern, and digital-first workforce.”
I couldn’t agree more.
 
The world of work is changing rapidly around us, where flexible or hybrid working methods are becoming the norm across the UK.
A 2021 study from Capgemini, which surveyed 500 organisations worldwide, shows that 46% of Britain’s businesses saw a boost to productivity due to remote and flexible working during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020. This is a positive thing for both businesses and their employees. When people have space to think they feel happier and generate more.
 
And in our report with the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR), we revealed a £232 billion opportunity for the UK economy by 2040  through investment in digital  transformation.
But we need to ensure that while we adapt to our new everyday, we simultaneously create inclusive environments that allow everyone to flourish.  
 
Leading by example
Jane Caldwell is the CEO of Age UK East London, working with over 9,000 older people in hospitals, the community and their homes.
When the pandemic hit, her team moved quickly to expand their services in hospitals and increase support for vulnerable people isolating at home. They did this much quicker than many other health and social care systems, offering humanitarian support to other groups too, including rough sleepers and women escaping domestic violence.
Jane says her team prioritised “resilience, inclusivity, humour, empathy and understanding that getting the best outcome is more important than winning an argument.”
 
We need to ensure women throughout the UK have the confidence to feel the same way at work, as unfortunately, this isn’t the case everywhere. And at the current rate of change, gender equality will not be a reality for another 100 years.
 
Especially because the Office for National Statistics has reported women have been "disproportionately impacted" by repeated lockdowns, exacerbating existing inequalities - particularly surrounding levels of unemployment and unpaid work or care.
 
Watching colleagues across the organisation juggling work with home-schooling and homework has created widespread awareness of just how hard it is to work from home, especially with younger children. We must take that sentiment and carry it with us as we create our new ways of working to support everyone in their new everyday.
 
Things like family-friendly work policies, training, and providing resources to support women impacted by COVID-19 are incredibly important. They are no longer a nice-to-have, but a must.
Outstanding research is already being undertaken by organisations such as the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (UNHLP), who have created the Seven Drivers of Women’s Economic Empowerment to combat economic inequality.
 
Continuing to push for STEM equality
Ensuring female representation within the technology sector increases has also been thrown into the spotlight, especially as the sector grows faster than ever due to the pandemic.
Women make up just 17% of IT specialists in the UK, showing a clear need to  inspire the next generation of girls to consider careers within the STEM space.
 
Last October, Code First Girls surpassed its campaign goal to teach over 20,000 young women how to code in the UK and Ireland for free.
According to its CEO, Anna Brailsford, the company has delivered more than £14m worth of free technology education over the past three years.
 
The right path
A successful rebound from COVID must address long-standing inequalities.
And as we re-think the way we work on a grand scale, now is the perfect time to do so, as covid-19 presents a unique opportunity to refuse to turn back time and press fast forward on gender equality.
Private and public sector alike must prioritise internal focus groups to give staff supportive childcare and return to work policies, women’s health guidelines, and improve women’s career access through leadership programs and genderless hiring processes.
Alongside this, lets empower employees to be allies within the workplace and call out inequality when it takes place.
 
Doing so will not just speed up the recovery from the pandemic in the short term and create a wealth of economic and social benefits for years to come but is simply the right thing to do.
If we are rebuilding the world of work let’s make it an equal, modern and digital-first one.