How can a global pandemic support our goals for gender equality?
The Atlantic have released an article stating that the Coronavirus is a disaster for feminism, citing parental responsibilities, obstetric care and domestic violence as key indicators of why this global pandemic impacts 51% of the worlds citizens worse than the other.
I applaud the author’s position but see they have omitted some important statistics from their article, and consequently the gender equality opportunities that arise from this crisis.
My TEDx outlined technology as a catalyst for change. And as automation dominates a changing working environment, we need to manage our talent pipeline accordingly. We need to ensure that those developing the technology reflect the diverse community it will serve, whilst also acknowledging that the future workforce also needs to learn how to work together differently. I draw from Jack Ma’s view that education must also evolve to respond to a world dominated by automation. We must enable our children to focus on what makes us competitively human; our values, our ability to work collaboratively and to care for others. These are all key to humans’ future success.
Now, let’s look at who is currently fighting on the frontline against Covid in the U.K; Teachers, Healthcare and Retail staff. All three industries, low paid and arguably, undervalued. All three industries dominated by women.
77% of NHS staff are female
85% of Primary School teachers are female
62% of Secondary School teachers are female
58% of Retail staff are female
Analysing these figures further demonstrates identical trends in other sectors; men in these industries tend to secure higher paid roles, earning more and being less likely to work part time.
So, as I shopped for my elderly parents in isolation, I started thinking of my friends and associates in finance, law, real estate, IT and civil service. I hoped they were safe. I hoped they were home. I hoped they were all ready to work with children at their feet.
I had to stop a moment. There are no eggs. One of the items my parents want. I look around and see a 60+ year old woman in uniform, she looks weary, she is stocking the shelves.
Gently, I ask her if there’s more stock. She gently apologised. I asked if she’d had a long shift. She nodded, saying she wished she were home.
And then I got angry. Those who know me well will know that happens rarely, but emphatically when I see injustice. My friends, my colleagues are predominantly safe. They are (and I hope, remain) well. They may have to adapt to strained WiFi and interruptions from the kids, whereas this retail worker serves us, facing the balance of a threat to health or wealth. Being exposed to the virus daily, taking that risk home to their families.
The schools, navigating the prevarication of this government, raising our talent pipeline. Being exposed to the virus daily, taking that risk home to their families.
The healthcare workers, facing months of frightening demands. Being exposed to the virus daily, taking that risk home to their families.
And I realised that my anger stems from our failure to effectively discuss inequality of any kind. We aspire to fill roles dominated by men. By white, straight, able bodied men. Yes, we try, yet we make such slow progress. We never change the conversation to ask why and where are men underrepresented?
And I conclude that’s due to economics, the supply and demand of talent and their perceived value. Teachers, Healthcare and Retail staff are viewed as low paid and as unattractive career options to those with modern views of gender roles.
Well, look around you. Who is the most valuable to society now?
How about we use this crisis to recognise the value of women historically, now and tomorrow? Let’s use this crisis to call for a redistribution of wealth to front facing education, healthcare and retail staff.
What’s more, look at how many men, how many male parents can thrive at home. Let’s celebrate how well they can adapt to increased parental responsibilities, domestic chores and flexible working.
This need not be a crisis that reduces what little progress we’ve made in addressing gender inequality. Let’s see there are two sides of this disequilibrium and look at men not only for support and aid, but to demonstrate the incredible contribution women make in whatever industry they chose to work within. Let’s raise the undervalued and unappreciated so traditional female roles are attractive to our daughters AND sons.
They are our collective caring and nurturing futures.
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