Covid-19 must not set the clock back on gender equality in the workplace

  • City & Guilds calls on employers to prioritise flexibility and training opportunities to avoid fuelling gender inequality during pandemic

London, 8th March 2021: New findings from leading skills organisation City & Guilds Group suggest that the economic fallout of Covid-19 and the impact of home schooling and childcare obligations could threaten to set the clock back on progress made towards women’s empowerment and gender equality in the workplace.

According to the City & Guilds Group’s research – based on findings from a poll of 1,000 employed or furloughed people of working age in the UK – men and women have different priorities when it comes to job satisfaction. Whilst women are found to consider work life balance (56%), supportive colleagues (42%) and flexibility (44%) as top priorities, men prioritise earnings (43%) and are more concerned about moving up into senior positions (22%) highlighting a greater emphasis on career progression. 

The pandemic’s impact, combined with the long-standing opportunity gaps that women already face, suggest that women are set to be hit particularly hard in the current climate. According to City & Guilds’ own insights, even pre-pandemic a fifth (18%) of women were unable to secure better jobs since they were unable to work the hours required, whilst part-time workers – a contingent made up of more women than men – were less likely to receive workplace training than full-time employees (62% vs 72%) and were less inclined to believe there were opportunities for progression (22% vs 36%).

Furthermore, with women making up the majority of employees within service led industries according to ONS, and 133,000 more women than men furloughed at the end of 2020, it’s clear that women are in a more precarious position when it comes to employment, training and progression opportunities. The numbers suggest that women stand a greater chance of losing their jobs and therefore, access to opportunities to retrain and upskill will prove to be important in helping women get back into meaningful employment once furlough draws to an end.

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO at City & Guilds Group, commented: “Worryingly, many women are in jobs that are at high risk of disappearing due to the pandemic, but it’s crucial that – equal – opportunities for women to upskill, reskill and progress in their jobs do not fall by the wayside. We need to recognise that this is an issue which must be addressed, and it starts with encouraging more flexible working practices and taking a fairer approach to in-work progression for women. If we fail to do this, there is a very real risk of undoing the progress made towards gender equality.”

City & Guilds Group recently launched the ‘Skills Bridges’ programme designed to help individuals who work in industries heavily impacted by Covid-19 to reskill and switch careers into growing industries or those facing labour shortages. 

Donnelly continued: “Economic slowdowns disproportionately affect women – we need to make sure this isn’t the case and that women are not crowned the losers of this pandemic. Gender balance in the workplace isn’t just a nice to have – it is a critical component to the growth and success of any organisation. We need the diverse perspectives and leadership styles of both women and men for organisations and societies to thrive. That’s why it’s crucial that women are empowered to gain the skills they need to progress within their own industry or to make a move to a more secure job.”

City & Guilds Group is calling on employers, Government and wider society to ensure gender imbalance does not fall by the wayside and take active steps to ensure flexible working policies and equality of opportunity to reskill and upskill remain on their agenda – particularly as women appear to be at higher risk of losing their jobs.

More information on City & Guilds Group’s Skills Bridges programme is available here.

YouGov Survey Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1084 employed/furloughed adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th - 11th January 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB employed/ furloughed adults (aged 18+).