To us men, sitting at a desk and sipping hot drinks from our favourite mug, this pandemic sure felt a bit strange. No more taking the Tube to go to work, no more spending huge chunks of our day to commute and so on. So much time saved. Most importantly, no more sandwiches from Prêt! That’s the real disgrace. And what about those pub nights?
Meanwhile, your beloved and perhaps furloughed partner was busy homeschooling your kids and/or taking care of all the most urgent household chores, while you giggled and chuckled on a call with your boss about how much of a pain in the arse that last client had been. Maybe you did so while she brought you lunch or dinner. Or a snack.
I know not all households will be looking that way. But at least one in four will. In fact, it looks like one in four women are considering downshifting their careers as a result of the Covid-19 crisis – at least in the US, and according to one of the largest studies of women in corporate America.
Image credit: Friend + Johnson
Surely the Covid crisis has been hugely disruptive for all employees. But while we men complain about how painful it is to be unable to enjoy a skinny latte from Starbucks, working mothers are seeing their careers destroyed by this virus. Unsurprisingly, women in senior leadership and black women were included in that figure, and have been impacted just as much. And don't even get me started on LGBTQ+ professionals.
So we did what we can do best. Asked a few questions around, got in touch with a few of our Top 100 Annual 2020 Influencers, exchanged emails with one industry figure in particular and here we are. Here’s how COVID-19 has impacted women in the creative industry – and what we can do to stop this downward trend.
The rest of this article features quotes from:
- Cindy Gallop, Consultant, Founder of MakeLoveNotPorn and diversity advocate;
- Melissa Ditson, CCO at MRM US, West;
- Paola Figueroa, Advertising Consultant and former Creative VP at Isobar;
- Michele Sileo, Managing Director/Partner at creative agency Eleven.
Impact of the pandemic on working mothers, senior leaders and black women
Women are absolutely critical to the creative industry. Forever creative, a prime example of empathy, care, love and patience, women in leadership roles are among the most successful professionals in the industry and are incredible at driving their businesses forward. Think of Emma Sexton, Aaisha Dadral, Karen Blackett, Aline Santos, or all of the figures mentioned in this article – all inspirational women, either winners of our Creative Industry Influencer of the Year award or of some others across the industry. And for good reason.
In many cultures, including but not limited to Hinduism, women are regarded as the key representatives of creative energy, mostly due to their biological and impressive capacity to create new life. And yet, the creative industry itself fails to deliver on recognising their value. The creative industry is predominantly male, and many women are struggling to find role models for themselves to look up to when entering the industry.
The pandemic is making things even worse.
Image credit: AMV BBDO
Michele Sileo says: “Working women fill many roles. (…) A mom at home (working remote) with children to homeschool (remote) or with their nanny (at home) is truly asking so much of women and parents overall.”
While blurring the lines between home and work has many benefits (I too have benefitted from being able to do the laundry throughout the day), this pandemic is taking an emotional toll on parents of both genders. But women are still the primary carers at home, and this impacts both working mothers and women in senior leadership roles.
Additionally, according to the abovementioned American study by Lean In and McKinsey & Company, Black women face even more systemic barriers, receive less support from managers and experience more acute discrimination. The episodes of racial violence in the US have made things worse for the mental health of people of colour, and it hasn’t helped that Black people have been found to be more vulnerable to coronavirus. As a result, compared to other employees, Black women feel more excluded and less supported at work.
Don’t get me wrong, gender equality was already behind even before the pandemic started, and it’s not like this gigantic, hardly visible monster has suddenly stepped in to target women. But now, things are worse than they’ve ever been. We’re deep into what some experts already define a ‘She-cession.’
Image credit: Zara Picken for The Planner
The Guardian reports that, from February to May, 11.9 million women lost their jobs compared to 9 million men. Pay cuts, lack of flexibility and issues with childcare services have impacted single and working mothers way more than in the 2008 recession. So much that the job market is starting to give a female name to this economic crisis.
A striking study by Oxfam analysed by the New York Times has found that women do more unpaid housework than men, amounting to a total of $10.9 trillion a year. This is worsened by the world working and living from home during lockdown measures.
But the problem doesn’t just lie in the sudden lack of childcare services, nor in the fact that women tend to do more housework than men – though that is certainly a big part of the picture. The gender pay gap was there way before the Covid crisis.
Women are undervalued, paid less than men, and for many out there, the stress and hassle just aren’t worth it. The pressures of Covid-19 are even pushing some women to consider whether they should leave the workforce entirely. We are on a dangerous track to see decades of slow progress vaporised in the space of one year, due to prejudices and lack of will that is true in the UK just as much as in the rest of the world.
When asked what her biggest career challenge was, Paola Figueroa replied like this: “It’s getting the job done all while blocking the hands grabbing at my ass. It is the creation of a character that allowed me to survive in an industry were rape culture is still the norm, where gaslighting is still a thing, and the ever so prevalent slogan, ‘she is a woman,’ is used in every conversation in the Mexican advertising industry to undermine brilliance.”
I think this explains it pretty well, doesn’t it? Mexico may be far from home for some... But how far is it, really?
Image credit: Anastasia Beltyukova
How to make a difference
Companies and businesses need to act now to make a difference. Some professional mothers, such as Melissa Ditson, feel particularly lucky to have someone who can help them care for their children – but not all households will be like that.
According to Melissa, businesses in the creative industry need to “support women, and especially those who have childcare responsibilities. Community is more important than ever during this time; businesses and agencies have to rally around their employees to make sure they are offering support and relief where possible.”
Melissa continues: “We will need to act fast. And react to repair the damage done during Covid. We are still in the thick of it, with a second wave on the rise. Women are absolutely critical to our industry, still in demand and we will need to be nurtured back into the industry and leadership roles as the industry rebounds.”
If anything, this pandemic is showing the strength of women from all around the industry. Melissa herself has "leaned into her feminine leadership qualities" more than ever during this time, employing empathy, vulnerability, humility, inclusiveness and patience to lead her team as we were all going through this pandemic and a challenging year for any business.
Still, recognising the value of women leaders is not enough in words, if the actions don’t deliver what our good purposes seem to promise. According to Cindy Gallop, the solution is quite simple – and in practice, it really is:
“It's very simple and easy to close the gender pay gap. Company leaders, just call for the full Excel spreadsheet with all the salaries in your company in it, go down it, and raise all the women's salaries to be the same as the men doing the same job. While you're at it, also raise all the Black/of colour men's salaries to be the same as the white men's doing the same job.
“Alternatively, in these tough times, just lower all the men's salaries to be the same as the women doing the same job. And lower all the white men's salaries to be the same as the Black/of colour men's.
“You'll have closed the gender pay gap, saved a ton of money, and delighted shareholders.”
You really don’t need to hear it from me, Cindy, Melissa or the team at Creativepool. One simple Google search can help you realise what is happening to the women in the entire industry and, most importantly, why. It is not as ‘complicated’ as you claim it to be, and it really isn’t someone else’s job to make the first step.
If your top executives can afford a salary raise in this pandemic climate, certainly your women employees and leaders could use one too.