Since its inception over 100 years ago, International Women’s Day has been an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across the globe, whilst shining a spotlight on the challenges they still face. This year, we weren’t able to get together in person as we have done previously – yet women around the world still commemorated the day in new, virtual ways.
As part of the WeWork Innovation Series, we hosted a special IWD ‘Webinar’ on the subject of ‘Equality at Work’ – which is now available to watch here or below.
Speaking at the event were three female leaders from across the business world; Mastercard’s Vice President of Corporate Engagement, Eva-Maria Baumer; TIER Mobility’s CPO, Georgie Smallwood; and Barbara Wittmann, who is a Country Manager and Senior Director of Talent Solutions at LinkedIn. Presiding over the discussion was WeWork’s very own Nyanya Joof, Head of Sales for UK & Ireland.
Have women been adversely affected by COVID-19?
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic played a big part in the conversation – with the panel discussing the ways in which the lockdown has impacted workplace equality. Nyanya Joof asked the panelists about the differences in how men and women have experienced the pandemic.
‘The pandemic has had a huge impact on women’ said Eva-Maria Baumer. ‘When I speak to my female colleagues, I see they have to juggle full-time work with homeschooling – sometimes even taking care of elderly relatives as well. I then realised that women are powerhouses! In a crisis like this, it’s not only important that you create structures that allow women to thrive, but that you look after them from a mental perspective as well.’
TIER’s Georgie Smallwood agreed: ‘I’ve noticed that men are talking about their children much more, which is interesting…I think being at home and seeing the amount of work that needs to be done is quite eye-opening for some men.’ ‘It’s been difficult because boundaries have disappeared, people aren’t at work and then at home. There’s no containment around our lives anymore and we’re all trying to figure it out.’
For Smallwood, women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic: ‘When people are under pressure they revert back to the systems that they know’, she explained. ‘Unfortunately, the system that society knows is to put women in the caretaker position. In the US alone, 400,000 more women have left the workplace than men. What happens when we take these women and these ideas out of the workplace is something we should be really concerned about.’
However, Barbara Wittmann spoke of some positives, which in time, could actually benefit women in the workplace. ‘What we have seen is that soft skills are a lot more important now. You aren’t just in one location anymore, so how do you communicate? How can you bring teams together? How can you show empathy, loyalty, innovation? How do you engage the introverts more?’
Wittmann also spoke candidly on her own experiences: ‘Women sometimes try to be perfectionists and are too critical of themselves. Sometimes I find it easier to speak up for my team, or for a project, than myself. I think that’s a difference in how we’re brought up – we think we need to excel in everything we do.’
Working towards a fairer future
When it comes to real-world solutions on how to combat this growing inequality, Eva-Maria Baumer shared some of the practises in action at Mastercard, an ethos she describes as ‘fix the system and not the women’: ‘One thing I think is really important is that we have rolled out unified parental leave’, she revealed. ‘It’s really important that men and women share that responsibility.’ ‘We also publish our pay gap report. Right now we have more men in senior positions, but we are trying to resolve that as soon as possible.’
She also spoke about Mastercard’s wider commitments to equality: ‘We want to partner with companies, organisations and governments on policy, we’re part of the 30% Club. It’s super important to embed this inclusive lens into your business and your strategy. You can’t just see it as a CSR opportunity, it needs to run through the DNA of your company.’
Nyanya Joof spoke about how WeWork has adapted its solutions in line with its members’ needs: ‘Our new All Access benefit grants access to any of our 800+ locations around the world at no extra cost, and what this provides is flexibility – it enables a work/life balance for our members. Our members can work around childcare and other personal commitments. It’s really important that companies are putting flexibility and diversity at the core of their cultures.’
For Georgie Smallwood, it’s vitally important to implement equality measures right at the beginning of women’s working lives. ‘In technology there’s a massive underrepresentation. We need to make sure we make space for women in these roles – and that starts right at the beginning, with education; how do we get women into STEM courses at university? How do we promote graduate positions? How do we pull people through their career?’
As the event drew to a close, Eva-Maria Baumer seemed to speak for everyone: ‘My wish is that we take this crisis, and see it as an opportunity to really build back better – to redesign these structures that clearly don’t work for everyone and to create a world with women in mind and women involved. Because we won’t be able to solve the upcoming crises and problems without a diverse set of thoughts, ideas and people.’
The WeWork Innovation Series brings together business leaders to tackle the challenges businesses face today. You can find more information on previous and upcoming thought leadership events here.