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.