The last year pummeled us with challenges we never anticipated we would face. Lockdowns left many people struggling to pay the mortgage; stuck indoors dealing with strained relationships; and conversing with friends and colleagues in their pyjamas via a webcam, unable to touch or enjoy the natural ease that a face-to-face conversation offers.
But for others, the consequences of COVID-19 presented a silver lining of opportunities, and shifted their perspective on what's truly important in life. Many found themselves rediscovering interests and hobbies they once had as child; virtually connecting with family members they had lost touch with over time; and spending precious moments with children - moments they previously may have missed out on.
The repercussions of the pandemic have varied from person to person, with some experiencing far more serious and unfortunate events than others. A lot of us have had a combination of highs and lows.
We know that women all over the world were particularly hard hit. In the UK, women were more likely to be furloughed, and more likely to spend significantly less time working from home and more time on unpaid household work and childcare. In the US, around 400,000 more women than men have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic. Globally, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women means there’s a risk that progress on gender parity could go into reverse.
So how has this overwhelming and unpredictable moment in history impacted the way women think and feel? Have their goals and desires shifted? What are they lacking in life, and what do they really care about?
The Female Lead launched the Fulfilment Finder in 2021, a short survey that focuses on five dimensions important to women's happiness; Self, Society, Relationships, Money and Work. By taking the survey, you gain a deeper knowledge about yourself; discover what makes you feel fulfilled; and have a light shined on the areas you may want to improve on in your life.
Tens of thousands of women took part in the survey at the end of May / early June 2021, just as the UK and many states in the US were emerging from the pandemic. This crucial timing offered The Female Lead the chance to compare the findings with their Women at Work survey, which took place in September 2020.
And what did we discover?
Great relationships are key
The most notable finding is that relationships are now far more important to women's fulfilment than they were in the middle of the pandemic. This includes relationships with friends, parents, partners and children. This is a significant shift in what women were previously saying was essential for their sense of fulfilment in life, when compared with the Women at Work survey in 2020.
With women being forced to spend more time than ever at home with their partners and children, and simultaneously not being allowed to visit loved ones and friends for so long, it's perhaps no surprise that their relationships (or lack of) became the focus of their life during this turbulent time.
In both the UK and the US, women who took the Fulfilment Finder survey revealed they were looking for more enjoyment in their relationships. The usual distractions of never-ending entertainment that we once took for granted - bars, restaurants, holidays, theme parks, festivals and indoor physical activities - were shut for business. With those facilities closed, we were left with the bare necessities of our relationships to keep us gratified. Conversation and support from loved ones during lockdown became crucial in keeping our mental state positive.
For so many women, this stripped-back way of living shone a light on which relationships brought them enjoyment; which relationships were showing cracks and needed work; and which relationships simply had to end. After months of intense rediscovery on who we really value in our lives, it's no wonder women are craving enjoyment and sharing good times with those they love.
A more surprising revelation from the Fulfilment Finder survey is that women are currently feeling less in control of their relationships, and are looking for more power in their relationships as we return to ‘normal life’.
Women with no children living at home and younger women are the respondents who are mostly seeking power. This is striking as one may expect these demographics to already be enjoying a sense of power over their lives and relationships, given the lack of responsibility and financial freedom one might presume they have.
Those living with a partner also desire more power in their relationships, though given the intensity and extended close proximity most women were experiencing with their partners during lockdowns, it's likely that compromising became an essential concept to keep the relationship strong.
Over lockdown we heard reports of divorce lawyers saying they had never been busier — but new research has found that lockdown may actually have been good for marriage. Twice as many unions in the UK improved during the pandemic as were made worse, according to a report by the Marriage Foundation. One in five married couples said their relationship had strengthened during the pandemic, compared with 10% who said it got worse.
With that sense of power and control slowly taken away over the months, hopefully it's something that can be regained for women as their lives return to normal and they no longer have to be with their partner 24/7.
Money is meaningful
Some good news that the Fulfilment Finder survey found is that women in the UK and US are now less concerned about money than they were in the middle of the pandemic.
By December 2020, 8.9 million people in the UK had borrowed more money because of the pandemic’s impact, while one-third of low-income families increased their spending through 2020 in order to cover the extra costs arising from COVID-19 restrictions. In the US, one-in-four adults had trouble paying their bills since the coronavirus outbreak started, a third dipped into savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet, and about one-in-six borrowed money from friends or family, or had to visit a food bank.
While financial struggles were at the forefront of so many people's minds during lockdown, The Female Lead’s survey shows that many women in the workforce are feeling slight relief now we have come out the other end, and can relax a little about their monthly earnings.
However, there's two sides of the coin, and another potential reason for this shift in concern could be that respondents simply place less value on money than they used to. With family and relationships becoming more of a priority for women, perhaps this shows a decline in interest for the material things in life.
That being said, since coming out of the pandemic women in the UK are more likely to want to build investments for the future; and women in the US are more likely to want to make financial savings.
As stated previously, COVID-19 affected us all in different ways - some for the better, and some for the worse. Forced saving was significant across all income earners, but greater for higher-income households, who were able to accumulate more savings during the crisis than in previous years. It's satisfying and addictive to see the numbers in a savings account getting bigger, and with this being the case for some fortunate women during the pandemic, it's likely that the inability to spend made them realise how to be smart with money, and the benefits of feeling financially secure for the future.
Though phrases such as 'money can't buy you happiness' are often thrown around to remind us of what should really matter in life, the Fulfilment Finder survey proves that fulfilment comes in all forms, and every woman is different. Though respondents are now less concerned about money than they were in September 2020, excitement and enjoyment around money has also decreased.
It's difficult to be excited about money when there's little you can spend it on, though the lack of joy women are currently feeling is surprising given that the retail, hospitality and leisure industries are now fully open. Could it be that the respondents are desperate to spend money abroad, which they are still unable to do? Or does money just really no longer bring them the happiness it used to?
With a shift in the importance of saving money, there's a chance that women are no longer getting that short dopamine hit from impulse spending, and rather will feel the benefits of their investments in the years to come.
The Fulfilment Finder is an ongoing survey into women from all over the world, enabling them to connect with their individual and evolving motivations and goals. It's a rare insight into how women are thinking at different stages in their life, and provides evidence, tools and inspiration to support them in their fulfilment and realisation of their personal goals.
Once you have completed the main survey, your results will take you to a page where you can complete further surveys on your work, self, society, money and relationships.
The early months of this survey have already unveiled some exciting discoveries in what women have found important since the pandemic, and it will no doubt show more insightful trends as society develops and evolves over time.
When it comes to relationships, money, work, self and society - where do you feel most and least fulfilled? Find out now by taking our short survey to discover what fulfilment means to you, both at home and at work.
You might be surprised, try it now here: survey.thefemalelead.com