This international women’s day, it would be impossible not to reflect on how the coronavirus pandemic has, not only impacted women over the past year, but how it may affect gender equality for many years to come. Throughout the COVID-19 emergency, we have seen many of the incremental improvements to women’s equality rolled back. According to the UN, women have borne the brunt of the socio-economic ramifications of the pandemic, with an estimated 47 million women and girls falling into extreme poverty since the start of the pandemic. Put simply, this past year has laid bare the fact that women are still less valued in the workplace than men, they are statistically more likely to lose their jobs due to economic crisis, leaving them more vulnerable to poverty. They are also charged with 2.6 times more unpaid labour than men which means that women, especially mothers were more likely to decrease their hours, leave or lose their jobs in order to make time for the surge in childcare and domestic duties caused by the stress of lockdowns. Since March 2020 there have been discussions on what the recovery from a global disaster of this magnitude could look like, with many, rightly arguing that this moment should be used to “build back better,” meaning, creating a more sustainable and inclusive society. Now is the time to make sure that those weren’t just empty words. 

Close to a year on from the first national lockdown in the UK, fatigued from social isolation and financially uncertain, the temptation to “go back to normal” is stronger than ever. Now is the time to #ChooseToChallenge ourselves to follow-through and help to build a new normal. We cannot build a just and sustainable society without an inclusive innovation approach. For businesses this means transforming the way we think – viewing business growth through an ethical lens. To do this, we must bring women to the table, diverse, gender-balanced teams are proven to be much more innovative than teams that are less so, despite this fact, innovation jobs are still largely male dominated. By including women internally, not only can businesses provide equal opportunity for their employees but also have a better chance of catering to women externally, improving the lives of women as well as unlocking new areas for growth. Take, for example the Kenyan mobile-money system, M-PESA an innovative solution to lack of access to traditional banking. Since its inception in 2007, it is estimated that M-PESA has lifted 2% of Kenyan households out of poverty, which given the gender wealth-gap disproportionately benefits women and promotes economic resilience. Inclusive innovations like M-PESA are fundamental to our recovery from this pandemic and to the safeguarding of our future.