Lockdown has sealed the long march to equality working mothers have fought for

After years of heated debate about equality in the workplace, Covid-19 could be the change women needed.

Lockdown may soon be a distant anecdote, but it opened Pandora’s box to the elusive third option to work, which may never close again.

Before we were politely told to stay at home for fear of death, the mark of our progressive country was that 46pc of our workforce was made up of women. There was constant discussion around reducing childcare costs, introducing subsidies, offering flexible hours and making the transition to work smooth after maternity leave.

Nothing should stop us from working in politics, on oil rigs, sitting on boards or running Fortune 500 companies after we have children. Men can do it, so why can’t we?

Getting to work as quickly as possible after having a baby was a mark of honour. Jacinda Ardern, the extremely capable and brilliant New Zealand prime minister, was back at work after “the fastest six weeks” of her life.

Despite enjoying a “wonderful” time with her daughter Neve, she was “absolutely” ready to go back to work. “I am not the first woman to multi-task. I am not the first woman to work and have a baby – there are many women who have done this before,” she said at the time.

Whenever she or other successful women are asked by journalists, “How do you do it?”, the answer is, “You wouldn’t ask a man that.”

This is true. Men have been working all hours in offices, going to war, going on lengthy expeditions to Antarctica or orbiting the planet and no one asks them about missing their kids’ nativity play.

But I am not a man. It’s not a competition. I don’t care if society deems it OK for them to miss their children growing up. I don’t want to miss my child growing up.

And yet, before the coronavirus, the most celebrated form of gender parity and – to a certain degree – privilege was doing the same as men in the workplace.

By getting up at 5am, ironing, dropping kids to crèche, going to work, missing the annual Christmas fête, we were breaking the glass ceiling.

Staying at home and minding the children was the other option – if we had rich husbands and didn’t mind the daily drudge.

Those were pretty much our choices: Go to work or stay home and mind the kids.

Most employers who embraced flexible hours and paternity pay just didn’t dig the notion of working outside of the office.

Then in March this year, everything changed. Not only did we work from home, we became teachers and full-time childminders too.

Employers who didn’t entertain the option before, did so at the drop of a hat. Suddenly we were making banana bread, doing homework, having Barbies or tractors shoved in our faces while talking to clients in Singapore – and it worked.

As Asterix would say: “And the sky didn’t fall on our heads”.

Suddenly there were no more pointless meetings and lengthy commutes and yet productivity didn’t fall by the wayside. Best of all, mothers spent more time with their children.

Today, my daughter and I went to pick up her school folder from school and a small gathering – in line with social distancing guidelines, of course – formed outside. It was bitter sweet, because she missed the past three months of her first year of junior infants – her little rite of passage – but for the first time all the mums were there.

And they liked it. When we look back on this time, no mother will say: “Oh I’m sorry for that time I spent with my children when I could have been in a unnecessary meeting with a glazed expression on my face, drinking bad coffee.”

Sure, it’s been hard, but as we examine the paradigm shift in how we work, a lot of women are recalibrating and realising what’s important.

The veil has been pulled from the propaganda. The coronavirus has shown us that the gender pay gap was borne of a mothering gap.

Employers must take note. Women don’t need cheaper childcare or flexible hours, they need a system that facilitates them being able to work from home if they choose to or take sabbaticals if needed.

If companies are real about gender rights in the workplace, then this must happen.

Covid showed us that time is the most precious commodity of all and many working women don’t want to spend it in the office any more. Now they don’t have to.