Women’s equality: How do we stop the clock turning back?

Tanya Alden-Zeter
4 min readApr 27, 2021

Despite a 50% increase in the volume of childcare duties undertaken by men since March 2020, women still do the lion’s share of not only childcare and homeschooling, but of looking after our older people too. This unpaid workload piled onto millions when lockdown measures were introduced last spring and in addition, women were much more likely to lose their jobs or to be furloughed as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

As restrictions now ease, the findings of research into the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women demonstrate that gender equality risks rolling back decades, with women suffering the greatest economic and social blows, and girls and young women becoming trapped in traditional gender roles at home. As such, the next 12 months will be critical for addressing and challenging the failings of the government to consider the impact of key policies on women under the Equality Act.

Senior news reporter Alexandra Topping was joined by Stella Creasy MP, writer Otegha Uwagba, and Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, for an event discussing actionable ways for implementing positive and progressive change that is inclusive of all. At Contented, we took away some surprising truths about the current status quo and, importantly, inspiration from these four women around the research and campaigns they are conducting and how their findings can help to propel us forward.

In this summary, we look at five eye-opening truths about the current state of play for women’s equality — and then at ways in which we can all drive forth bigger and better systemic change.

  1. Every year, 54,000 women lose their jobs after falling pregnant, while 390,000 working mums experience negative and potentially discriminatory treatment at work. Shockingly, these numbers have doubled in a decade. More on this from Pregnant then Screwed and Stylist here.
  2. According to Stella Creasy, the only piece of business reporting that was cancelled last year was the Gender Pay Gap Report. If we do not prioritise transparency, we simply cannot level the playing field.
  3. With the SEISS initiative set up for the self-employed affected by COVID restrictions, female entrepreneurs found their payments significantly cut if they had had a baby. The way the payments are calculated do not exempt periods of maternity leave, a discriminatory measure affecting over 84,000 women.
  4. After welcoming a second child, women are at most risk of falling out of the workforce completely — because childcare is simply unaffordable in the UK. Research by Brearley and her team shows that a third of women with two or more children are barely breaking even, or are actually PAYING to go to work.
  5. Corporations and government in the US have, over the past 5 years, implemented some forward-thinking measures that are potentially surprising — Walmart makes an active point of including women in the supply chain, by sourcing from women-owned businesses across all product categories. They know that 70% of their buyers are women, so this can only boost their revenues. Californian law means that all companies whose principal offices are located in the state must have at least one female director on their board. UK leaders promised a Maternity Workforce to be in place, in government, by 2019, of which — you guessed it — there is still no sign.

It sounds stark, doesn’t it? It’s hardly surprising that for many, this state of affairs is just ‘the norm’, along with a reluctant acceptance that the change we might wish to see is a long way off. However, there ARE ways we can speed things up, and it’s not all that complicated, either.

Organisations, including government and businesses must:

Recognise that it makes economic sense to implement inclusive, gender-equal policies- it’s not about doing women a favour. Closing the pay gap now would add £600 billion to our economy by 2025. Given the events of the past 12 months, we dare say that if there was ever a time where this was needed — it’s now.

Stop the habit of having females present and speaking on important political, social and economic matters, on behalf of all other women. To quote Stella Creasy — “women are not some homogenous lump with similar experiences and the same ideas…we’re a bit like men, we’re all quite different!”

Teach negotiation skills in schools and universities. This one is key for Otegha Uwagba. Learning negotiation means strengthening our ability to empathise and to compromise, whilst building confidence and a robust sense of self-worth. All of which are conducive to setting and delivering fair policies that benefit all of society.

And as individuals — how can we actually make a difference?

It may sound simplistic, but be persistent. Follow groups with strong and genuine influence around the issues that matter to you. Get journalists who you know or who your friends know on board. Write letters to your MP and get something read as a Ten Minute Rule Bill in Parliament. And in the workplace, trust that there is strength in numbers. Collective demands put pressure on leaders and employers to take action. Fact.

Leave the gender stereotypes out of your home. Housework, finances, planning and maintenance are all areas that men and women alike can manage very effectively!

And crucially — have that conversation about childcare and shared responsibility (and joy!) long before your baby arrives.

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