For several years, women have been asking to be allowed to work from home (WFH). Most managers and human resources (HR) hummed and hawed, saying it was too much trouble and that it would bring down productivity and do something nasty to team spirit. They did allow WFH on rare occasions, but not before letting the woman know what a favour they are doing her. The pandemic has put an end to such worries.
Everyone including reluctant managers and HR personnel, are now on the WFH bandwagon. Businesses have been forced to look at the most efficient way to get work done and, guess what, they have discovered that WFH actually works and could potentially change things for the better. Who would have thought? That’s a win for everyone, across genders for the flexibility it affords them and businesses for the wider talent pool they can fish from. That’s the bright side.
The not-so-bright side is that the pandemic lockdown has doubled the workload on women. Working mothers have always worked two shifts — after a full day at the office, they end up spending hours caring for children and doing other domestic chores. The pandemic has added to this burden by pulling the plug on their support system, with the house help not showing up or not being allowed into apartment complexes. Women even have to put aside more hours for childcare, which includes helping out with online classes.
A McKinsey-Lean In Study, Women in the Workplace 2020, recently found that one in three mothers has considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19. It found that, since the pandemic, mothers that are a part of dual-career couple are twice as likely as fathers to spend five more hours a day on chores. The authors of the study urged companies to take note of the situation and act to prevent women from opting out. Though the study was done for women workforce in the US, it could very well be a call to every company, wherever they are located.
Notwithstanding that, here is my take. The real change will come not just through companies promoting equity in workplaces, which consider the disadvantages women face and support them to overcome it, but through families and the larger society that extend similar empathy. The latter has to appreciate the potential and merit in creating a more equal society. Change has to begin at home.
Overall, to give credit where it is due, workplaces are evolving faster than families and social groups. There are a number of companies that are setting higher standards in promoting equity, and we are delighted to present them to you. May their tribe increase!