How the pandemic has created another shift for women in business

Thursday 15th October 2020 marked the three-year anniversary of the viral #MeToo movement, where Actress Alyssa Milano shared a tweet encouraging females to stand up and share their experiences of sexual abuse.

The ensuing weeks and months shone a sobering light on the reality of gender inequality and the scale of the challenge.

As a woman working within the tech industry, I believe that the #MeToo movement has facilitated an environment for women to come forward with their personal experiences and has actively encouraged open conversations in the workplace.

How Covid-19 has affected working women

In my role as Head of Partner and Alliances at SAP UK, and also acting Executive Sponsor for both our Business Women’s Network (BWN) and Diversity & Inclusion teams, I have seen Covid-19 as a double-edged sword for many women in the business world.

Working from home has provided another level to the flexibility essential in liberating women with children to pursue their careers, in an equal manner to men. For instance, organisations have directly supported parents struggling with home-schooling young children, including the Atos Families Virtual Summer Camp, which offered two weeks of science parties, story time and even French lessons! The “new normal” of working at home has also fostered a climate where it’s now far more acceptable to let colleagues know that you need to collect your children from school, help them with their homework or make them dinner, all to fit around the working day. Women feel less apologetic for this than ever before. I’ve personally had numerous “interruptions” from my children and dog, over the past 7 months of working at home, all of which have been dealt with sympathetic good humour from my colleagues.

At SAP UK, we have continued to empower employees to look after themselves and each other. Beyond offering virtual gym classes and mindfulness training programmes, we’ve also encouraged employees to join enablement sessions on health issues such as menopause, with the aim of creating awareness and removing the stigma behind a powerful time in the lives of many women.

However, conversely, many women have found themselves in a situation where they have assumed the primary caregiver to children and elderly relatives, regardless of their work responsibilities. This backpedal has led to almost impossible expectations of juggling multiple occupations, some unpaid. The quality of life for some women since the pandemic has been bleak, women have been stuck inside with an abuser, or pushed to continuing essential work despite workplace abuse.

We need to be careful that we do not fall back into gendered stereotypes and provide support for women in vulnerable situations, intensified by the global pandemic. Through SAP’s UK BWN, I hope to foster a safe space for communication and collaboration on such topics, that are critical for equality in the workplace. Our goal is to create opportunities to have every voice heard and affect meaningful change across the business, and ultimately, within the wider industry.

Where do we go from here?

We all must work harder to foster an inclusive, friendly and vibrant culture, where employees have the space and support to run at their best. My role within the SAP UK BWN is tremendously important to me, and I am both proud and humble to be able to play my part in the work that it does. From webinars on unconscious bias, to GCSE Maths workshops, our network is devoted to ensuring we have a workplace that is supportive to all.

But I believe we must pivot further. Striving for diverse and inclusive workplaces must be about more than raising awareness and scaled initiatives, after all it is widely accepted that diverse teams deliver significant social and monetary benefits. Ensuring management teams at all levels are diverse and inclusive, is key to meaningful progress. At SAP UK, the BWN aims to provide role models to young women entering the technology industry and to attract top talent to management roles, in order to change the perspective and conversation around the big table. Meet the women at SAP here.

This #MeToo movement has been a key milestone bringing us all together to fight for equality, not just women. As I often like to remind people, we all have a responsibility to be EPIC – Every Person Influences Culture.

“I think it will have staying power because people, and not only women, men as well as women, realize how wrong the behavior was and how it subordinated women. So, we shall see, but my prediction is that it is here to stay.” – Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

 

By Laura Atkinson, Head of Partner and Alliances at SAP UK & Ireland and Executive Sponsor for its Business Women’s Network and Diversity & Inclusion team.