President’s Message - February 2021

One month into my new Presidency and I have kicked off a series of introductory meetings with our corporate partners and inspirational volunteers. It has been a pleasure getting to know more of the WIBF network, and in particular hearing the personal stories behind your commitment to WIBF and its goals. All of this against a backdrop that promises to set women in all walks of life back decades.

Economists now talk of a “shecession”

Much as I am not enamoured of these kinds of ‘she’ labels, the evidence suggests that the COVID 19 slowdown has hit women particularly hard. A survey of thousands of working women by the Women and Equalities Select Committee this week reported in stark detail the devastating impact of the lockdown gender gap. As Caroline Nokes MP suggests, the “Recovery from the pandemic might well be the biggest challenge facing women since the Pankhurst’s took up the struggle to get women the vote well over 100 years ago”.

A litany of other reports back this up. The TUC revealed last month that 71% of mothers had requests for furlough turned down, and 25% were forced to use their annual leave to navigate childcare issues. One in three working mothers have lost work to cope with extra unpaid duties at home according to The Fawcett Society.

Claire Walker, British Chambers of Commerce co-Executive Director points, out that this is at odds with the value that employers place on the skills women bring to the workplace. The evidence is well documented – businesses with a diverse and inclusive workforce perform better.

Volunteers play a vital role in society and the economy

The gender “pandemic time-famine” (my terminology) is clearly taking its toll. I can see this in my day job on calls with the many women who are clients of The Wisdom Council - and I can see it at WIBF, where our team of volunteers cope with the increased challenge of balancing their home and work lives as well as the additional pressure of the many hours they dedicate each week to WIBF as volunteers.

They form part of a vital and often unrecognised group of individuals who contribute billions to the UK economy. In his December 2020 report for The Law Family Commission on Civil Society, Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England estimates that the extraordinary effort of around 20 million volunteers in the UK contributes over £200 billion in social value to the economy. That is a staggering 10% of GDP. He quite rightly asks how can we recognise and reward this effort and re-think civil society. He recommends launching a digital civic passport as a way of recording and recognising volunteering. Something which coincidentally already exists in Scotland. It does seem to me that proper recognition of the amazing volunteers (men and women) who are the lifeblood of social enterprise, not for profits, NGOs and charities is long overdue.

Why do I mention this? Because I have very quickly come to recognise the huge contribution that volunteers make to WIBF’s success. WIBF works for its members and because of the dedication of its volunteers.

Thank you

I would like to close this month’s message by thanking those volunteers, particularly when I know that you will have even more demands than usual on your time and energy while the effects of the pandemic are still being felt. We literally wouldn’t be who we are without you.

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