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Roseann Kelly: 'Everybody back to work' sounded to me more like 'lads back to work'

The impact of Covid-19 has hit everyone here, but Roseann Kelly, chief executive of Women in Business, is concerned about the bigger hit to females, with childcare issues and greater potential job losses. She speaks to John Mulgrew about the sections falling through the cracks and how now is the time to act for the future

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Roseann Kelly, chief executive of Women In Business

Roseann Kelly, chief executive of Women In Business

Roseann Kelly, chief executive of Women In Business

Roseann Kelly is concerned that the impact of coronavirus is, and will, have a disproportionate effect on women, and women in the workplace.

That could see more women facing losing their jobs than men here due to Covid-19 and the impact on females being much greater due to major issues such as childcare – something she’s keen to see addressed in the wake of the crisis.

The chief executive of Women in Business, says it “will be mostly women that are losing their jobs” in Northern Ireland as sectors such as customer-facing retail and hospitality face significant cuts here amid pandemic pressures.

And she says female entrepreneurs are suffering badly as a result of the crisis, with childcare issues becoming the biggest barrier for businesses.

“It will be mostly women that are losing their jobs,” she told the Ulster Business Podcast with Bank of Ireland UK. “I feel that the impact is mostly being felt by women. Look at retail, the customer service end is going and growth is in the deliveries, which predominately go to males. Women are going to lose their jobs in retail and hospitality.

“Some of the creche facilities… I know of one which is not going to reopen. The margins are very tight in that industry and therefore the pay is quite low, so it’s very difficult.”

And she says there must be a new strategy to deal with childcare to ensure women are able to progress within their careers and help shift the balance of the volume of top jobs being held by men.

“The biggest issue for our corporate senior managers or entrepreneurs is childcare. Childcare is a huge issue and it does fall predominately on women, and it shouldn’t be a female issue in this day and age.

“We have had members furloughed who have had to take on schooling of children, and issues with that. That is key and the biggest issue we have. Even prior to Covid-19... we haven’t got a childcare strategy in place. It is key for women’s development.”

Roseann says a recent survey pointed to a large proportion of discrimination cases around the issue of childcare.

“That was expecting people to work from home while they have children there and the pressure that brought, or they were asking people to come back in to work when they had no childcare,” she said. “There have been a lot of issues around that and it has to be addressed.

“Childcare was always a barrier. When this came about it was like, this is great, as employers can see that it can be done, and so I would have been excited about that. I still am.”

She says there’s also now an opportunity for some of Northern Ireland’s firms to help address the low number of females in charge of our biggest businesses.

“It’s disappointing that just so few Top 100 business leaders are female,” she said. “It doesn’t reflect the talent of the businesswomen that we have here, at all.

“When we first went in to lockdown, and there was a realisation that we could work from home, that was a time for me to think ‘something positive is going to come out of this in terms of women’.

“The reason we only have a couple of women in the Top 100 is because the pipeline is not there. When we’ve lost those other women (in top jobs) there hasn’t been the quantity of women at senior management level.

“If we can sort out the childcare and flexibility that will take out a lot of the issues that are there.”

She says she’s hopeful now is the time for change, but it’s one that has to happen as a culture. “I would be very hopeful, but it is a culture change and it really needs a shift from the top,” she says.

Roseann also says that while there was a strong level of government assistance in ensuring companies stayed open, there was something severely missing from the approach to the help.

“Looking at some of the support programmes from government, they didn’t really take into account women or having any gender lens on them – that was a bit disappointing,” she said.

“When they said ‘everybody back to work’ it sounded to me like ‘lads back to work’. It didn’t move in tandem. It just looked as if women were not really being valued, or taken in to the equation as to how important they actually are.”

“There were an awful lot of female entrepreneurs that fell through the gaps. Even in terms of the income support there were issues there in terms of it being the average of three years (of accounts). Some women were on maternity or had taken maternity. That would have impacted on that.”

Ulster Business