Pushing people back into the office risks creating a two-tier system where ‘white middle-aged males’ are making important decisions, Chartered Management Institute chief executive Ann Francke claimed this weekend.
In an interview with the Guardian, Francke said that blended working – where a portion of the workforce return to the office while the rest continues to work from home – could inadvertently discriminate against women and people from black and ethnic minorities as they are left out of key decisions.
Coronavirus and equality
“The risk is when we go back into the office, the people that go back will be the senior leaders. And we know that those senior leaders are largely white men,” she said. “That will reinforce the kind of exclusionary, lack of diverse culture at the top of organisations. I think that would be a very dangerous step backwards.”
She added: “I don’t think it is the responsibility of companies to save the local sandwich shop. The bottom line is, ultimately those businesses that are really affected in the long term will have to adapt. They simply have to adapt.”
The government has recently been stepping up its message to encourage employees to return to offices, with concerns that cities are suffering due to a lack of business from commuters.
As the new ‘rule of six’ comes into effect today, where social gatherings of more than six people inside or outside are banned, workplaces remain exempt.
A poll by the CMI for the Guardian found that 42% of managers thought the lack of childcare caused by the coronavirus pandemic – due to unpredictable school closures or lack of before and after-school clubs -– could have a negative impact on female employees, while only 20% thought this would be a problem for men.
Francke said that the decision to suspend the requirement for companies to report their gender pay gap this year could also push back progress in gender equality at work.
Earlier this month, a poll by the TUC found that two in five working mothers struggle to find the childcare they need, with general secretary Frances O’Grady calling this a “childcare crisis” that could push women out of the workforce permanently.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, now a visiting professor at the Cranfield School of Management, has also claimed that the pandemic has stalled progress in addressing gender inequality, with women bearing the brunt of job losses, childcare challenges, home schooling and furlough over the past six months.