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Women in Business 2021: A Window of Opportunity

The Weekly Journal

Editor’s note: Second of a two-part series on women in business

The seismic event of the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed how we live and work. In the business world, some of the changes that will likely be permanent include a more flexible, hybrid schedule, as so many people have been working from home for months at a time.

For women, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword, according to the Women in Business 2021 report by Grant Thornton, a leading multinational independent audit, tax and advisory firm.

On the positive side, women’s rise in senior roles in the business world has not been stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic. As previously reported by THE WEEKLY JOURNAL, the percentage of women holding leadership positions in companies has hit the important 30 percent threshold globally, despite the challenges of COVID-19. The milestone is particularly important because Grant Thornton’s previous two reports (2019 and 2020) had the figure stuck at 29 percent.

“The pandemic has created a window of opportunity to include more women in senior management,” said Kim Schmidt, global leader at Grant Thornton International. “The most obvious initial impact was that many of us were forced to work from home. This challenged traditional thinking around what working flexibly means and should have a lasting impact on how leaders think about it. It might even have changed some decisions leaders made during 2020, by removing unconscious biases, and led to a more positive evaluation of female talent.”

At Kevane Grant Thornton in Puerto Rico, the gender ratio of leadership positions is even higher than the global average. Currently, the figure is at 57 percent women and 43 percent men, according to Kevane Grant Thornton Managing Partner Luis Carlos Marcano. He indicated that the new numbers reflect the “integration” in Jan. 2021 of four new partners at the company, along with 30 other professionals.

“However, women continue to lead… Before the integration, the average ratio was 65 percent of women in leadership positions at the firm,” he said.

At the same time, Marcano said Kevane Grant Thornton is also committed to another aspect of the gender divide in the business world, namely pay equity to address the gender pay gap. “We provide the same range of salaries and opportunities of career advancement, like leadership trainings, opportunities to advance in other professional certifications beside the CPA license, opportunities of secondments in other member firms within the Grant Thornton International organization. We also assign the same level of clients to our management and most important, flexible work arrangements to foster life/work balance,” he explained.

Marcano was alluding to the continuing challenges that many women continue to face in the business world, which has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While flexible and hybrid schedules have been a positive in many respects, this new reality has also had negative impacts for women.

Various Setbacks

For example, the Grant Thornton report mentions that women have been more greatly affected by redundancies and furloughing during the pandemic. The Pew Research Center reported that in the U.S., between February and May 2020, 11.5 million women lost their jobs compared to 9 million men. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom (U.K.), an Institute for Fiscal Studies report showed that mothers were 23 percent more likely than fathers to become unemployed during the pandemic.

In addition, women have shouldered more of the childcaring responsibilities during lockdowns in many countries. Combined research by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich found that in the U.K., U.S. and Germany, women across all income brackets did more childcare and home schooling than men during lockdowns.

“While the experience for many women in the workplace during 2020 has been challenging – bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s economic and social fallout including job losses, furloughing and increased caring responsibilities – in the sphere of senior management, the story has been largely positive. In 2021, we see a greater proportion of women in senior management globally than ever before. And with the 30 percent tipping point being passed both globally and in most regions, the expectation is for this trend to accelerate,” said the Grant Thornton report.

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