At times of crisis, keep inclusion front of mind

There is plenty of evidence to prove that diversity of thought fuels innovation. We need rapid and creative solutions to help us through the crisis we now face.

That is why inclusion is more important than ever. Creating and nurturing a culture where women are encouraged and supported to play their full part is so important.

In the current unprecedented crisis, those with the least power, privilege and money are the most vulnerable. In our gendered labour market, it is often women who risk losing their job, put their health at risk, shoulder the burden of caring responsibilities and slip through nets of provisions put in place by the Government. If we allow this to happen, the human and societal cost will be significant and have a long-term negative impact on us all.

During the 2008 recession, Annette Williams, then Director of UKRC, commissioned research on the impact on women’s employment. When I heard the Government has suspended the requirement for gender pay gap reporting, I was reminded of Annette’s warning words: “It is sometimes argued that equality is a luxury in a recession”.

Whilst I can understand a desire to remove regulatory burdens on business, the underlying causes of the gender pay gap won’t go away. If we take our eye off the ball, we risk losing ground that has been hard won in terms of giving women genuine equality of opportunity in the workplace. Indeed, Fawcett Society research[1] found that after the 2008 recession, the gender pay gap increased.

The difficult decisions we take now in terms of layoffs, recruitment, secondments and promotion, could have profound and lasting impact. Think about the long term – the capability we will need in the future as well as the skills and experience we need today. The proportion of tech roles filled by women has flatlined[2] in the last ten years; given how fast technology is moving and how the make-up of the workforce is changing, we cannot afford another lost decade.

WISE will be playing our part. We will soon launch a digital campaign to put faces to the one million women working in the UK STEM workforce. We want to hear from women who are using science, technology, engineering and maths to make a difference – saving lives today and in the future.

We have also launched WISE Connect – online sessions for our members to share learning and good practice that will help us all through this time. It isn’t all doom and gloom – the lockdown has forced organisations to adopt home working, sweeping away the old objections which have prevented women and others with caring responsibilities from making the most of their potential at work. Flexible working for all is one of the WISE Ten Steps. If we capture the learning of how organisations are keeping their activities going whilst so many of us are working from home, it could transform the world of work for the benefit of all.

A senior manager remarked to me last week how online meetings allow everyone to participate in a more inclusive environment than the normal face-to-face meetings, taking place around a table where people tend to listen to the person with the loudest voice. Wouldn’t it be interesting to monitor the impact of these different ways of working on the quality of decision making?

Whilst we are facing up a crisis on a scale unlike anything any of us have faced before, let’s seize the opportunity to draw on the talents of everyone in our organisations-both men and women – in bringing our unique and diverse contributions. Not only will this help us all in the short term, it will make a profound and lasting difference for generations to come.