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City AM blog: Good for equality? Good for the economy

International Women’s Day is a catalyst for a wealth of discussions on experiences, equality, and the opportunities to realise gender parity, but this year, the backdrop of COVID-19 has brought new issues to the fore.

For the International Women’s Day episode of DiverCity podcast, host Julia Streets was joined by Yvonne Thompson CBE, entrepreneur, campaigner and activist, and Vanessa Vallely OBE, managing director of industry group WeAreTheCity. The discussion ranges from the changing nature of female entrepreneurship to how the City can support purpose-led leaders in realising their ambitions – and more besides.

Vanessa said that any discussion about the prominence of female and minority entrepreneurs will have to acknowledge that COVID-19 affected women differently to men.

She expanded: “With the COVID-19 lockdown, women were massively affected. Women lost their jobs in lower paid positions; we had the impacts on childcare and home-schooling. A lot of that will have a real knock-on effect.”

Our podcast manager (and research aficionado) Cynthia added that overall, analysis shows women’s jobs and livelihoods are more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the July 2020 McKinsey article on COVID-19 and gender equality, showed women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s. Women make up 39% of global employment, but account for 54% of overall job losses.

It is vital to frame these discussions within the context of long-term goals, Vanessa added, saying that “the pathway to achieving gender parity, from the World Economic Forum, is always set at 100 years”. She said she is “fearful” of how that’s gone up, even in the last six months of 2020.

As such, it is increasingly vital that emphasis is placed on the opportunities that purpose-led entrepreneurship can have within the sphere, the opportunities it can garner, and what the financial services sector must do to help.

For Yvonne, corporations need to distil the disruptive and progressive energy of their employees to become “intrapreneurs”, manifesting the “new norm”, and ensuring it is fairer, and more just.

“I’ve had a few talks with organisations, such as Facebook, Google, Deloitte, and they’re all talking about not being able to go back to what we might call the “new norm” for 18 months to two years,” she said. 

“For me, there really isn’t any going back.” 

But morphing change within the entrepreneurial space is not simply a corporate exercise in rethinking existing structures. Rather, companies must embrace the ideas of more radical, younger leaders, especially from ethic minority backgrounds.

Yvonne says the untapped wisdom of “young people, the future leaders, the future entrepreneurs”, is waiting to be capitalised upon. And if we are to promote a strong economic recovery alongside positive societal change then incorporating and amplifying diverse entrepreneurship will be a key step.

As Cynthia Akinsanya summarised it perfectly: “What is good for gender equality is good for the economy and society as well. The COVID-19 pandemic puts that truth into stark relief and raises critically important choices.”