IWD 2021: HR and mental health consultant Sharon Pegg on the darker side of lockdown and the global gold standard of female leadership
For International Women’s Day 2021, Bdaily reached out to a range of female business leaders from across our key regions to share how their experience of the pandemic has shaped their passion for gender equality.
HR consultancy and mental health trainer Sharon Pegg is the founder of Northern Powerhouse Consulting in Huddersfield, and pivoted her business from face-to-face to online delivery when the COVID-19 crisis struck.
Sharon spoke to Bdaily about the darker side of gender inequality during lockdown, moving her business online and how women around the world have demonstrated strong leadership skills during the pandemic.
As a woman, how have you personally adapted during the pandemic, and what challenges have you faced?
“In March 2020 I faced a huge personal challenge. The HR consulting business which I founded six years ago heavily depended on face-to-face delivery of my specialist diversity and inclusion training programmes. Overnight, face-to-face delivery was wiped out.
“I had to pause, re-evaluate my business and adapt everything to online delivery. I could see that mental health and inclusion training was going to be even more important as businesses worked through the challenges of the pandemic.
“The demand for my services would be even greater, but I had to deliver them in a socially distant, accessible way.
“As a result of the challenge, I wrote new training courses, created new products, invested in better tech and built a new media strategy.
“The suite of 20 online ‘rapid learn’ inclusion and wellbeing programmes I launched are fully accessible globally, having been translated into many languages including Portuguese and Spanish. The feedback on these educational programmes has been phenomenal and I will be doing more of them in 2021.
“I also launched a new website for the business, which has new translation capacity and accessibility from a disability perspective at the highest level. Despite the challenges, I am proud of what the pandemic has pushed me to achieve.
How have you and your business supported women during the past year?
“Women supporting women is an important part of not only my business but also being a role model. I support other women through coaching, helping women on a 1-2-1 basis to reach their true potential, developing their skills to achieve success or their personal goals.
“During 2020 I felt it was really important for professionals in my field to “stick” together, highlight potential opportunities for success or look at challenges that we would be facing from the pandemic.
“I developed an Inclusion group for Diversity professionals to come together, take challenging issues and help build these into their own personal organisations, challenging language and issues facing organisations such as the Black Lives Matter campaign. In 2020 we had 6 meetings and I created and supported this purely on a voluntary basis.
“In addition, I provide monthly blogs to start important conversations on many topics including mental health, isolation, resilience and the impact of COVID19 on management and organisations.
“This is one of the avenues that many people learn, and I have shared my own personal experiences to help readers gain insight they can use in their everyday lives.”
What opportunities do you feel that the pandemic has created for women, if any?
“It is difficult to say because the pandemic has been such a different experience for everyone. For some people it has been the worst time of their lives, watching businesses they have built up collapse, losing incomes, spending months in isolation, let alone being one of those physically unwell.
“For others, it has actually seen new business opportunities, brought communities closer together or given them time to learn new skills and evaluate what’s important in life.
“For me, the pandemic has created opportunities as it has given me more flexibility and time to achieve the growth of my business. I have had to work hard, think differently and innovate to survive, but I am so proud of what I have created.
“It has allowed me to do something I probably would have done eventually by moving into online learning but would never have found the time to do so, being absorbed by face-to-face delivery.
“It has enabled me to open up a global market thanks to the online training programmes and I am looking forward to working with more global clients in the future.”
In your opinion, has the pandemic highlighted any gender imbalances in business?
“A report published by the women and equalities committee warned that the pandemic has made existing inequalities worse for pregnant women, new mothers, the self-employed, women claiming benefits and those working in the professional childcare sector.
“I know many women have been expected to work and look after children at the same time. Others have had to balance business with looking after shielding relatives. Has all the recent progress on equality been reversed in the space of just 12 months? I hope not.
“In my opinion, the pandemic has highlighted inequalities generally. Specific racial and ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the disease itself. The elderly are more likely to have been hospitalised or worse. But the young have suffered more in terms of access to education and jobs.
“I think the pandemic has exposed the inequalities that run across our society and I hope that we can all move forward with a more inclusive approach.”
As we step into a post-pandemic business landscape, how do you think women’s roles in business may change?
“I would like to think that further steps will be taken towards equality as we move towards a more flexible working model. Many employees have demonstrated that they don’t need to be in the office 9-5 to do their jobs, having been forced to work remotely.
“However, the real ‘progress’ remains to be seen, when we discover what the new normal will actually look like for business. Many women have shown real flexibility and innovation both in small businesses and in big organisations during the pandemic. I hope to see this flexibility continue and women taking even more senior roles in organisations.
“Much has been written about female political leaders during the pandemic. Jacinda Arden, Sanna Marin and Tsai Ing-Wen have all been praised for taking swift and decisive action to limit the spread of the virus and protect public health.
“Angela Merkel’s Germany has had a far lower death rate than its European neighbours including Britain, France, Italy or Spain.
“Hopefully, these examples show that women can be particularly effective leaders in crisis situations and periods of rapid change.
“Domestic violence has been a key issue which we have all become much more aware of. This was an issue before the pandemic but, sadly, has increased during the pandemic globally. It does happen to both genders but the majority of survivors of domestic violence are women.
“This social issue can have major consequences at work and training managers to recognise the signs and support staff facing domestic violence situations, as well as the widespread mental health challenges arising from the pandemic, is vital.”
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