Women working in the UK tech sector report that gender inequality has widened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many feeling that their careers have been stunted by the shift to working from home.
A survey of 177 women working in tech companies found that more than half (57%) felt that the pandemic had led to a regression of gender roles, with a third of these (34%) believing they had been set back by as many as 10 to 20 years.
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Women are also finding it much harder to get ahead in the industry, the survey found: 54% of respondents said the pandemic had made it more difficult to break into tech, while 53% said the current climate had made it more difficult to launch a new business.
A further 49% said COVID has made it harder to secure funding for new businesses.
The survey was carried out by accelerateHER, an organization that seeks to address the underrepresentation of women in technology.
The group found that many women were having to shoulder additional household burdens while working remotely, including having to home-school children, with over half of respondents (55%) saying they were dedicating more time to their children’s education than before the pandemic.
Household chores have been a significant burden on time, the survey found: 76% of women said they were spending more time on household tasks since the pandemic began – largely in part due to the increased amount of time spent working from home.
McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace Study found that the pressures felt by women as a result of COVID-19 were leading many to consider downshifting their careers, or leaving the workforce entirely.
Inflexible employers were largely to blame, with many women finding it impossible to balance traditional 9-5 working routines around additional household responsibilities such as childcare.
Data from the US Department of Labor published in early March revealed that as many as 2.5 million women have left their roles – of their own free will or otherwise – since March 2020, compared to 1.8 million men.
SEE: Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
The accelerateHER survey found that those who had remained employed felt that the pandemic had stunted career options. Over half (51%) felt it was more challenging than ever to secure a promotion, while 50% said COVID-19 had made it more difficult to achieve a senior leadership position or get onto the board of a company.
Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said the pandemic has not made any difference to men’s career prospects and 51% felt that men’s ability to achieve a senior leadership position was unchanged – which accelerateHER said pointed to “a widening chasm of gender inequality.”
Prior to the pandemic, 59% of those surveyed felt gender roles were progressing towards parity. Laura Stebbing, co-CEO of accelerateHER, said: “Covid-19 threatens to reverse the important gains that have been made for women’s equality. For too long it’s been down to women to change the system, but men are more likely to be in positions of power to drive change.
“Men can do this by sponsoring a junior woman, bringing her to key meetings, advocating, providing opportunities to do things that will help her get ahead.”