Today is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is ‘Choose to Challenge’. The IWD website states, ‘A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change’.
I wanted to write about this challenge, of achieving gender parity, calling out bias, and finally reaching equality.
But the line about the ‘challenged world’ reminded me of another upcoming milestone. On 16 March 2020, the UK government told everyone who could work from home to do so. Initially this was just to be for a few weeks while we got a handle on the virus, but here we are, one year later, in our third lockdown and still working from home.
For many of us working from home has been fine, even great. We’ve been able to do our jobs, and thanks to all the online meeting apps (noisy pets and appliances notwithstanding), we could stay in touch with each other and with our clients. Plus many of us have had more time to do other stuff – baking, gardening, reading, box sets. And while we missed seeing each other in real life, there’s a certain comfort knowing that we’re not missing out on anything!
But for some women, lockdown wasn’t fine. In fact it brought more work and more stress. It’s been widely reported that women have been doing the bulk of the work needed to keep households running, often while also doing their job! And that of course includes childcare and home schooling. A study by the ONS found that 67% of women and 52% of men were taking charge of their children’s education. The same study found that one in three women found this extra burden was negatively affecting their well-being, compared to one in five men.
Many mums (myself included) have felt guilty, for not having enough time to spend with the kids or help with their schoolwork, that we’re letting them spend way too much time on screens, that they’re not getting enough exercise, or that while we don’t mind sitting in each night, their social lives and mental health are really suffering.
At the very dark end of the scale we also know that the coronavirus crisis has led to a marked increase in domestic abuse, a crime largely committed against women. For those women trapped in homes with their abusers, the end of lockdown can’t come quick enough.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that gaps remain in our quest for equality, and we must all work together to shape the future and create an inclusive world.
I am fortunate to work for a company where 70% of employees are women, where the majority of managers are women, and one that offers flexibility of working to everyone, which has been especially useful during lockdown.
The past year has challenged all of us, so today, on International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate our achievements, big and small. To my colleague who over lockdown tried to show her children how to juggle work and home, personal and business, fun and formal – that is truly inspiring. To my colleague who managed to potty train her toddler in between client calls and managing digital builds – you are amazing. And to my colleague who has been juggling calls with childcare, and spends her lunchbreaks clearing up the devastation her kids have caused in the kitchen, but still manages to put that aside and go for a family walk in the evening so everyone can decompress – well done!
The IWD website tells us that ‘A challenged world is an alert world’. We’ve spent a year being challenged and staying alert. Even so, I can’t help hoping that the next year is a little less challenging.
For more on Women in Science read our blog This is what a STEMinist Looks Like
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