Monday, 8 March 2021
International Women's Day: Statements
We cannot help but focus on Covid today and the inequitable effect that it has had on women. What are we going to do about it? We cannot allow for these experiences and insights to merely become ink on reports or for us to sleepwalk into a global she-session going back on progress that we have made in women's economic participation. The structural inequalities that exist are staring us in the face right now more than ever and we need to see action, investment and long-term change.
I hope to touch on three things, the first of which is remote working. Employers faced major upheaval when, overnight, they moved their employees to their homes but the next stage of upheaval will be whenever employees return to their offices. These people need to be managed fairly and I am specifically talking about office workers. Despite the fact that only 40% of home workers at the moment are women, we cannot allow remote work to be gendered or for those to opt to work from home or remotely to be viewed, or treated, as any less ambitious than people present in the office. If offices return to a culture based on physical presenteeism then there will inequality, so the Government must be proactive in helping to establish a new work culture based on equal opportunities. The Government can do so by encouraging the use of technology first, which is basically what companies are doing now but merged and integrated into the office environment. We need a communications campaign on best practice for how to do that and how to bring companies through the hybrid transition. I am worried that not enough companies are talking about the hows of the hyper transition.
The national remote working strategy is fantastic. It is committed to introducing the right to request to work remotely. It will enhance our commitments under the EU work-life balance directive which requires EU member states to introduce the right to request flexible working arrangements for carers and working parents of children aged from zero up to eight years. I believe that we can go further than that. Not everyone works in roles that can be done remotely, has access to adequate remote work spaces or wants to work remotely even if they could. If we do not want flexible work to be gendered or stereotyped then we need to go beyond parents and carers and offer it to everybody. Let us look to Finland where, in 2017, Finnish fathers spent as much time with their children as mothers, and the gender employment gap was less than 2% in 2020.