Written by Niccii Kugler - Founder of Nash + Banks
As we celebrate International Women’s Day today - the theme of which is Choose To Challenge - I can’t help but look back at what a tumultuous year we’ve had.
Given the advent of COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantines and lockdowns, it’s no surprise that many of us have been challenged to change the very ways in which we work and live. But 2020 shifted the dynamic for women in more ways than one.
The unique struggles of women in 2020
All around the world, women were hit hard by the effects of coronavirus on the economy, with job losses disproportionately affecting women. In Australia, female employment dropped by 8.1%, while male employment fell by 6.2%. The sad reality was that women were overrepresented in the industries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic - food and accommodation services, the arts and recreation fields and health services.
Even for women who worked in essential industries (75% of health professionals are women – including pharmacists and medical scientists), the struggle was magnified as the closure of schools meant completely rethinking workplace arrangements. For women without partners or with complex familial set-ups, things got even more complicated. WGEA’s study of the impact of COVID-19 suggested that the impact of the pandemic on single parents (the majority of whom are women) was impacting women’s capacity to undertake paid work.
Work and employment aside, we also faced what some called the “pandemic within a pandemic”. Stress, loss of income and isolation can negatively impact the best of us, but it all created a perfect storm to exacerbate the issues of violence at home. Hayley Foster, Chief Executive of Women’s Safety, New South Wales, called 2020 “the worst year for domestic violence that any of us who are in the sector now have ever experienced.”
A study by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that almost 10% of Australian women in a relationship had experienced domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis. Two-thirds of the women said the attacks started or became worse during the pandemic. And, for women with previous experience of physical or sexual violence, 50% said the abuse had become more frequent or severe since the start of the pandemic.
There’s no doubt that 2020 was a difficult year for all of us, but it’s important to recognise the disproportionate negative impacts that it had - not just for women in Australia but all around the world.
From challenge comes change
Compared to so many, I consider myself fortunate, surrounded by a community of female founders through my role at Nash+Banks but also through a network of incredible women in my local community and life. For me, last year demonstrated the resilience and adaptability that adversity so often breeds.
Not able to meet in person, we connected in Zoom meetings hosted waist-down in leisurewear with babies, children and housework drifting into the frame. I saw myself and many other women spending every waking hour in constantly fluctuating roles, dancing from chef to maid to CEO to teacher. I watched as women (already challenged by the competing roles that we play in our own lives) were stretched beyond breaking point.
And yet, somehow, through it all, I saw embers of determination that grew into infernos of inspiration. In the midst of the tumult and trepidation of COVID-19, children were homeschooled, companies pivoted under the most unusual of circumstances, and female founder communities rallied in support of one another.
In a study conducted by the Women’s Agenda, 2020 forced 80% of surveyed women to rethink what was important to them in a career, with 48% pursuing some form of upskilling (including online courses or a degree). Off the back of this, 237,994 new businesses were registered in 2020 - two-thirds of whom were female-led, as the pandemic pushed professional women to a crossroads in their careers.
Like a phoenix from the ashes
As I continue to progress through my own life stages at a time in history where we straddle the expectations of the past and the endless possibilities of the future - whilst still caught in a web of double standards - I am continuously impressed by the ability and tenacity of women to evolve throughout their life’s journeys. It’s a beautiful thing, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes.
We strive, we pivot, we bend, we reinvent, we give up what we’ve been working towards just as we are reaching the peak, to stop and nurture life. And then, we adapt to a new normal. But it doesn’t end there. We keep growing, keep adapting, keep changing. Stretching, pushing and barrelling through what life throws in our way.
I’m fortunate enough to hail from generations of resilient women - some of whom were resourceful and entrepreneurial long before it was acceptable. And I am fortunate to have a mother who led by example, evolving in her role as a mother, entrepreneur, and designer whilst raising children, launching businesses, and starting all over again when we immigrated to Australia.
For many women, that support was never there. And yet, they dug deep and found the kernels of determination and raw tenacity within them. They heard that little voice that whispered, “Go. No matter what anyone says, just GO.”
Whether we are in our 20s, 30s, 70s or beyond, women are incredible mavericks of reinvention and evolution, redefining who we are, how we work and what we’re capable of. I am so incredibly humbled by the women who surround me, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and even those from farther afield who I’ve not met but still inspire me.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, let’s all take a moment to recognise the rockstars of revolution - the scientists, politicians, business owners, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends who are the living and breathing embodiment of what’s possible with grit, intelligence, and compassion.