United Kingdom

Women 'will suffer most' if we go back to the office every day, boss of Aviva insurance warns

Women will be the biggest losers if workers are forced to return to offices five days a week after the pandemic, the boss of insurance giant Aviva has warned.

Chief executive Amanda Blanc said the lockdown had given businesses a chance to reassess working patterns to help women who are saddled with the brunt of childcare and other responsibilities at home.

Aviva has emailed its 16,500 staff to say that it is 'safe' to return to the office if they wish to do so, according to a memo seen by The Mail on Sunday. 

But Ms Blanc, who is also the Government's Champion for Women in Finance, warned that ordering employees back to workplaces full-time risks damaging the careers of mothers and 'puts the female agenda back'.

Chief executive of Aviva Amanda Blanc (pictured) said the lockdown had given businesses a chance to reassess working patterns to help women

'We cannot go back to working as we did before,' she told the MoS. 'If all you're doing is coming back to the office for a video call or to work on a report, then that can be done from home. 

'If that's what people want, that's what they should be able to do. We've got to think about how we bring people back to work, so it isn't just a workplace where men come back and women stay at home because they've taken a primary care role, looking after children or parents.

'For me, I'm determined it's balanced. I'm very conscious of that, and we need to think very carefully that we don't put the female agenda back.'

Many firms have started to recall employees to offices. 

Guidance to work from home is expected to be dropped on June 21 when lockdown restrictions are due to be lifted, though this could be delayed by the spread of the Indian Covid variant. 

But plans vary dramatically between companies, ranging from permanent 'flexible' working – where staff can work wherever they wish – to returning to offices all week.

Ms Blanc warned that ordering employees back to workplaces full-time risks damaging the careers of mothers and 'puts the female agenda back'. (Stock image)

Official figures show that women with children are nearly seven times more likely than men with children to work part-time.

Mothers look after children for about 10.3 hours a day, 2.3 hours more than fathers, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

Ms Blanc, one of just a handful of female bosses of a FTSE 100 company, said Aviva is advertising jobs 'flexibly' so that people can work from home if it makes childcare easier, for example.

She said: 'What we don't want is women to come back after maternity leave or caring and feel like they have to take a demotion. We've got equal parental leave, which makes a massive difference.'

She said men at Aviva on average took 24 weeks' paternity leave last year – 'an extraordinary number compared to four or five years ago'.

Ms Blanc will be a 'role model' for staff by working from home for part of the week. 'If I'm in the office five days a week… other people will come into the office because they think I'm in. So we have to role model that we can work flexibly.

'I think how you come out of Covid is probably going to be the most important issue now, because it'll be the last thing people remember about the way they were treated by their employer during the pandemic.'

In the memo, called A Big Step Forwards, seen by The Mail on Sunday, Aviva said its offices were 'open and safe' and that if employees feel they would 'work more effectively or be happier in an office', then they can return.

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