Wednesday 27th May 2020
by Crystal Hicks, Assistant Director Customer Service, Your Homes Newcastle
How’s it going? How are you guys coping? Odd isn’t it how quickly these questions have taken on a whole new meaning. I seem to go from loving the simpler way of life and being at home more (usually when the sun is shining) to being fed up and wanting something more interesting than the same 4 walls and same 3 faces (as gorgeous as they are). So they say we are in it for the long term and things may never go back to how they were and I have started to think ‘how do I feel about that’?
I’m excited about things not being as busy – let’s face it busyness got a bit silly for all of us before this and we’ve learned that busier doesn’t always mean better. To be able to be more flexible around work, exercise, friends, family and to feel more in control of my own time is something I’m looking forward to if that becomes a long-term outcome.
I’m slightly nervous though about some of the more negative long-term impacts that aren’t being talked about. I’m not talking about the recession, or the impact on our kids education or even the rise in domestic abuse, which are all pretty worrying things, but there are a couple of silent issues bubbling away in the background. I fear we are going to lose some equality ground when the new normal becomes the normal if we aren’t mindful of these.
Here’s my beef. I’m a millennial (I’ve a t-shirt with it on so people know that as the wrinkles try to tell a different tale). At school I was told that ‘you can have it all! Don’t think about getting married and children, go to uni, have a career then fill in the gaps when you are older – women can have it all if we put our minds to it’. To be fair, the messages did come from a couple of influential women in my education who weren’t so fond of a bra and had a distinct distaste for men. But no one had figured out then, and I still don’t think we’ve figured it out now, - HOW do you really have it all without having to DO it all. I’ve noticed now working from home that all the boundaries are blurred and I’m no longer ‘Crystal the mum in the morning and at bedtime’ ‘Crystal the manager between 9-5’ ‘Crystal the cook at teatime’ but I’m now all of those things, all of the time. The mechanisms we’d put in place to have it all, and manage it all, prior to Covid-19 have slowly been dismantled as we are now well and truly able to HAVE IT ALL, at the same time, in the same place. Being able to manage all these things, at the same time, seems impossible to me and I’m a great multi-tasker.
My second worry is that in times of crisis it is always those at the margins of our communities and workplaces, who are the most vulnerable or exposed to risk who are impacted the most. For many of the women we know in our social lives or at work they were just getting by before this, often single parents, working part-time to manage child care and home, taking time out of work to have children and managing and more than their fair share of the home making and childcaring responsibilities.
For these women being furloughed has a financial impact but also an impact on their future career as they aren’t being seen during the crisis so can’t show their leadership potential. Furloughing for women often means 80% (soon to be 60%) of what was already a part-time or smaller salary than that of their male counterparts and so for where we assume we work for free from mid-November each year, in comparison to male salaries, we must assume in 2020 that many women will be working for free from much earlier than that.
A recent Guardian article highlighted that women are more likely to be in roles that are furloughed than men, are picking up more of the childcare when working from home (especially if parents are separated) and are making more of the day to day decisions about schooling and social distancing arrangements. At the end of this we may end up with lots of women in our workplaces who are emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, pretty skint and shy of holidays because of what they needed to do to get through this period. I’m going to remind myself to be mindful of this when we are returning to normal business, when we are making decisions about flexibility and supporting colleagues to not just cope but thrive once this is all over.
And if I was to give any advice to the 16-year-old Crystal hearing the advice of the braless teacher it’d be this. ‘Yes, women can have it all but that means women and men sharing the load equally’. If lockdown has revealed anything it may be that the load wasn’t really being shared in the first place and what got us into this situation is going to need a different answer to get us out of it. More flexibility, more equality informed decision making, more kindness to those who are struggling. Look out for one another!