Women, Leadership and the Post-Pandemic World

As the 2020 edition of the global Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society (in which The New York Times is a media partner) gets underway this week — virtually, this time — we asked some of the participants to share their thoughts.

Christine Lagarde spoke about her plans for the European Central Bank. Other female leaders spoke about the role women can have in determining what the world looks like after the pandemic. The following answers have been edited and condensed.

Anne-Gabrielle Heilbronner, member of the management board and secretary general, Publicis Groupe

Women have a key role to play. They can be the most vulnerable to these dangerous changes; they can also be in the strongest position to face these new challenges. To make sure this happens, they need to be protected against all forms of violence. They need to benefit from uninhibited access to financial and health protections, whether they are employed by a company, self-employed or carrying out unpaid work. In this new “normal” of working from home, companies like ours have a responsibility to put in place strict rules to ensure women don’t suffer from either isolation or overwork, and can feel part of an inclusive workplace.

Alexandra Palt, executive vice president and chief corporate responsibility officer, L’Oréal, and executive vice president of Fondation L’Oréal

Today, all over the world in all our societies, gender inequalities are exacerbated by the unprecedented crisis the world is facing.

For an inclusive recovery, specific measures should be implemented to support women in all domains. For instance, in science and in STEM, where we need more than ever efficient innovations, ensuring female researchers have equal access to funding, promotions and publication ownership. And in the social assistance field, we need specifically to help women achieve social and professional integration, provide emergency support to refugee and disabled women, prevent violence against women, and support victims. An inclusive recovery also means more women in decision-making roles: If women continue to be excluded, there will be no inclusive recovery, and no recovery at all. Women and society rise together.

Ulrike Decoene, head of brand, communication and corporate responsibility, AXA

Covid-19 has deepened the vulnerability of women to several risks: risk of unemployment, risk of losing their financial independence, risk of being more exposed to domestic violence. Women have also been more exposed to health risks indirectly aggravated by the pandemic and lockdown in many countries. As a result of the crisis, women feel more at risk — both physical and mental. As we are building a more inclusive world post-Covid-19, we must ensure women are not at disadvantage when it comes to accessing health care. During the pandemic, 40 percent of women say they’ve not been for regular checkups. Lack of access to routine health care could have long-term consequences for women’s health. At AXA we will therefore continue our efforts to improve access to health for women, notably through digital solutions such as Teleconsultation, for which 60 to 70 percent of users are women.

Dr. Daniela Victoria Grohmann, head of inclusion and diversity PH, Bayer

The crisis shed a light on the inequalities we thought we had already overcome. This is why we seek a more flexible and inclusive work culture. In the midst of this global pandemic, we need to focus on what our colleagues need to do their best. Because patients rely on us.

Kate Behncken, vice president and lead, Microsoft Philanthropies

Covid-19 is accelerating digital transformation across all industries, and as a result, in the post-Covid-19 economy almost every job will require some level of digital skills and digital fluency. The pandemic has also exacerbated what was already a widening skills gap around the world — a gap that will need to be closed with even greater urgency if we are to promote a fair and inclusive economic recovery. We must help ensure that all people around the world have the opportunity to gain the digital skills necessary for the available jobs of today and tomorrow.

Shelly McNamara, chief equality and inclusion officer, Procter & Gamble

While we have yet to see the full economic impact of Covid-19, we know that women and minorities are disproportionately affected. One out of four women are considering downsizing their career or leaving their job, and many are working to care for work and home simultaneously. At P.&G., we have a longstanding commitment to create a gender-equal environment. We are working to achieve gender equal representation at every level, ensure equality-based policies and programs, and tackle bias and microaggressions.

As the virus emerged, we accelerated work on our policies and programs. We know that caring for the well-being of our employees includes helping with child care issues, sick family members, flexibility with working hours, and access to paid sick leave, mental health resources, financial support and technologies for working remotely. We also communicated clear expectations of our leaders: to be more flexible, stay connected on a human level and focus on retaining our talent.

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