Against the backdrop of the world of Covid-19, I am delighted to join Equate as its new Director – albeit for now remotely.  I am not the only new start – with two other new team members joining, Susan Lancaster and Jenny Lester, replacing Margaret Ross and Jenny Downing there is a lot for us “newbies” to assimilate – even before you add in a remote induction process.  It’s also a lot for the team to cope with, so much change already underway, and now three new people asking multiple questions. Their patience is greatly appreciated.

How quickly our world has changed in a just a few months.  How quickly we have all had to adapt.  Not just to changes in how we work, but changes in our family life, our social interactions and the emotional highs and lows each day and each new challenge brings. But while our thoughts are starting to look ahead, and plans are being developed for a return to work, what will the new normal look like? How will we use this time to reflect on what have we learned on this very rapid change curve?  What should we let go from that dramatic transition, and how can we hold on to the benefits we’ve gained, not least in terms of our attitude and awareness to issues of inequality, but also our increased capability for home and flexible working?

The way that organisations and people have had to adapt has demonstrated that barriers can indeed be broken down.  Covid-19 was the “compelling reason for change” and the response reflected that urgency. But the barriers were not just in a work context as one of the silver linings from all of this has been the way people have reconnected with the value of family, community, and kindness.   So, before we all just jump back to where we were, let’s think about the ground we’ve gained, and how we move forward from there.

Our ability to adapt in huge numbers to people working from home has been astonishing; working flexible work patterns, but also juggling and sometimes struggling with home schooling and caring responsibilities.  The glass ceiling of flexible work patterns and working from home has been well and truly smashed. Given what we have all been through, the old arguments of it’s too hard, it’s too complex, it’s too inconvenient, it will cost too much, won’t stack up.

As an equalities organisation looking through the Covid-19 lens we have not lost sight of the current and historic discriminations experienced by people of colour.  In May, we launched our research on the intersectional discriminations experienced by women working in STEM. Through our work, we are committed to amplifying the voices of women of colour, who often face the greatest barriers to participating and succeeding in STEM workplaces. We will continue to draw upon and share our learning from this research. It has also been encouraging to see the number of employers add their voice to the Black Lives Matter debate and it will be interesting to see what actions they take.  Equate can undoubtedly support them as they consider what systemic changes they need to make to challenge the conscious and unconscious biases that create barriers and prevent Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women from entering and succeeding in the STEM sector.

Through Covid-19 Equate has been adapting too, refocusing on how best we can fulfil our purpose of increasing women’s participation in STEM, building and campaigning for equality in the workplace and society.  We have been helping employers by delivering high quality interactive on-line training.  We’ve been providing consultancy support to develop “build back better” strategies.  We’ve  launched new programmes, as well as refreshing what we do and how we do it; continuing to reach out to future women technologists, engineers, scientists and construction workers; and the businesses who need all the talents of all our people to rebuild our economy and are prepared to embrace more open and inclusive work practices, so that we can all contribute to the challenges ahead.

The challenges of Covid-19 are far from over, and the challenges of Climate Change are already with us.  Our increasing use and growth of technology creates even more of an imperative for STEM skills across our everyday lives.  How will we use and embed the gains we have made through Covid-19 into our future way of doing things? How will we ensure that our insights around inequality and inclusion are not lost in the rush to go back to the old world? Our focus now must surely be how best to go forward, from here, together. Equate will continue to evolve and adapt the ways in which we support women into STEM and address inequality – why not come and work with us, so you can too – we’re happy to share.