The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minority groups is clear. Recovery within the workplace must therefore address the underlying causes of this inequality and do more to embed equality and inclusion into business as usual.

There is now an opportunity for organisations to do more to tackle structural inequality, but this will only be possible if tackling inequality is an explicit goal.

For example, issues of gender inequality in the workplace have never been so topical. Discussions around the topic are equally as applicable to the voluntary sector as the private sector:

“The temptation is to think of the voluntary sector as somehow better than the corporate world, but the truth of the matter is that there is nothing about a charity that automatically makes you good at promoting gender equality and diversity.” 

Sam Smethers, Chief Exec of the women’s equality charity, the Fawcett Society [1].

Chwarae Teg

Chwarae Teg means Fairplay in English. Since 1992 the organisation has been working to ensure that women in Wales can enter the workplace, develop their skills and build rewarding careers [2].

The core vision of Chwarae Teg involves:

Women in the Economy: A Wales where women achieve and prosper across all sectors and at all levels in the economy

Women Represented: A Wales where women are visible and influential across all sectors of the economy, society and public life

Women at Risk: A Wales where women are empowered to achieve their potential, regardless of their background, social status or geographic location

They do this in a number of ways:

  • Working with women directly to support their career development
  • Practical skills and leadership and management
  • Working with businesses, and with organisations across the public and private sector to improve workplace culture
  • Encouraging all workplaces in every industry can be places where women are recruited, but also crucially supported to stay and progress to senior roles
  • Researching best practice, and seeking to influence governments at a strategic level to make the changes we need to see

Why does this Matter?

In 2019, Chwarae Teg’s research found that achieving full gender equality could add £13.6 billion to the Welsh economy. This evidence further demonstrates how creating a culture where women can fully participate in the labour market benefits everyone in society [2].

Many of the challenges women face in life relate to their position in the labour market, and the barriers they encounter when accessing and progressing within the workplace.

Modern working practices, including agile working, are often cited as a solution to addressing some of these barriers. Additionally, as a way of creating a labour market that is more suited to our increasingly diverse workforce, and our increasingly dynamic and interconnected world.

Agile Working and Staff Wellbeing

A 2016 Vodafone Survey of companies in ten countries found a wide variety of reported benefits of flexible working [3]:​ 

  • 61% reported that their company’s profits increased​ 
  •  83% reported an improvement in productivity ​ 
  •  58% believed that flexible working had a positive impact on their organisation’s reputation  

At Chwarae Teg they talk about agile working not flexible working. Agile working aims to increase productivity by giving employees the freedom to work in a manner that suits them best if they deliver agreed outcomes.

The organisation has developed, piloted, and implemented its own agile working system called Achieve since 2015. Achieve works on the assumption that work is what we do, not a place we go.

The organisation has reported benefits, such as:

  • Diverse, inclusive talent recruitment & retention
  • Business outcomes
  • Employee engagement and loyalty
  • Enhanced work performance
  • Avoiding negative employee outcomes
  • Positive work culture

Agile Working and Covid

Lockdown measures introduced to control the pandemic resulted in a seismic shift in where and how we work, with many organisations having to rapidly adopt remote working or place large numbers of people on furlough.

However, this move to home working has not been experienced equally by everyone.

Chwarae Teg has highlighted that in a crisis, it can be easy for the focus on equality to diminish as government and organisations focus on responding to what is regarded as urgent issues.

This has been the case during Covid-19 with just 5% of UK employers putting diversity and inclusion in their top three HR priorities during lockdown, compared with 14% previously [4].

The same pattern has been seen globally, with 27% of D&I leaders reporting that their organisations have put all or almost all D&I initiatives on hold due to the pandemic [5].

With schools and nurseries closed, the experience of care has also been significantly affected by Covid-19. Evidence shows that the impact of increased care has fallen disproportionately on women.

The differences in work patterns between mothers and fathers have grown since before the crisis. The IFS reports that in 2014/15 mothers were in paid work at 80% the rate of fathers, this is now 70% [6].

Mothers used to average 73% of the hours fathers worked, this has dropped to 68%. Mothers are now interrupted during work over 50% more often than fathers, it used to be the same proportion [6].

Responding to the Crisis

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted how unequal our society, workplaces and economy still are. These inequalities are not inevitable but do leave groups such as women, people of colour and the disabled, in more disadvantaged positions.

Chwarae Teg reported that the most successful responses to the crisis are likely to be those that anticipate and respond to different needs and impacts. Those that engage staff to learn from what’s working well and what’s not, and that focus on flexibility and well-being. They produced a checklist to advise senior leaders in organisations how best to move forward:

  • Review changes made due to Covid-19 – engage staff and do an equality impact assessment
  • Consider what the purpose of any physical office space should be
  • Adapt policies and practice to support and empower staff to work more flexibly
  • Train leaders to ensure they can model positive behavior and lead in an empathetic, trust-based way
  • Train staff to ensure they can thrive in a new work environment and have the digital skills to engage with colleagues effectively
  • Focus on culture and inclusion – changes in policy and practice alone will hinder success and risk leaving people behind

The importance of leadership and management cannot be overstated. Leadership styles will need to adapt, moving away from command and control and towards trust and empowerment.

Managing remote teams is very different, and managers will likely need to be supported to adapt to this new normal while considering the diverse needs of their workforce.

Chwarae Teg has shone a light on gender inequality in this context and it is essential that workplace and new hybrid working structures are inclusive for women and all members of staff.

[1] Smethers, Sam. 2021. The Fawcett Society

[2]Chwarae Teg. 2021

[3] Vodafone. 2016. Vodafone global survey reveals rapid adoption of flexible working

[4] CIPD. 2020. What’s happening with Diversity and Inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic?

[5] McKinsey and Co. 2020. Women in the Workplace 2020

[6] Institute for Fiscal Studies. 2020. How are mothers and fathers balancing work and family under lockdown?

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Covid-19 exposed inequalities in workplace structures and introduced a new way of working to many. Welsh gender equality charity Chwarae Teg report the need to work towards gender inequality, whilst highlighting the benefits of agile working to mitigate inequality.

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