Companies were today urged to grasp the nettle in using the virus crisis as a catalyst to tackling the gender imbalance in the City.
The surprise success of working from home for many firms in lockdown has improved prospects for parents attempting to juggle employment and childcare.
City of London Corporation policy chair Catherine McGuinness told the Standard: “Covid-19 has disrupted the ebb and flow of City life, but the pandemic also presents an opportunity for employers to rethink how they can support their staff.
“Providing it is safe to do so and in accordance with the latest Government guidance, many workers will want to come back into the City as soon as possible. But the restrictions have shown us that there are positive changes regarding flexible working arrangements and child care that can be made to help ease the burden of office life which too often falls disproportionately on women.”
McGuiness said her own organisation, which manages to Square Mile in London, had introduced policies including greater working flexibility, improved maternity pay and shared parental and adoption leave.
“One of the City’s great strengths is its diversity. But we still have lots of work to do. Any lessons from the Covid-19 crisis should be drawn upon as we seek to make the City a more welcoming place for women and people from different backgrounds,” he added.
Ross Mitchinson, co-chief executive at investment advisor Numis, said: “I think it will be really good for people like mums who return to work after having a child. Having that flexibility makes a really big difference. We are definitely positive on the impact in terms of diversity and inclusion.
“Where lockdown has not been as good is helping younger people who are trying to learn – you learn a lot from being around more senior people in the office.”
However proposals to shorten trading hours — in part to help improve diversity — took a blow this month when a body representing equity markets in Europe said it did not support the idea.
The Federation of European Securities Exchanges said instead companies should introduce shift work to address the issue.
There are fears London and Europe’s standing in the finance world could be weakened as a result of any shortening of hours. The timezone – sitting between Asian and American trading hours – is seen as a key boost to trade.
Former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy, now an advisor at private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice, said the shift to working from home could help employers access staff with the best skills. “It’s essential that you have access to all the talent that it’s in the whole of the country and you’re not missing out on really good people because of gender or ethnicity or social background,” he said.
“I think all employers are increasingly aware of that and doing their best to ensure they increasingly spot talent everywhere in the organisation.”