The Covid-19 pandemic has compelled businesses to rethink their strategy and consider how their employees continue to work. The world has witnessed a dramatic change as most companies relaxed the flexible schedules for their employees and opted for a remote work system. Employees struggled to maintain their work-life balance, juggling work, home-schooling, looking after ailing relatives, and managing their health issues.
Women hit hardest
Various studies suggest that the pandemic has hit women the hardest. Notwithstanding the remote working system, women not only lost jobs but also faced burnout. Working women who met the added responsibility of caregiving were more vulnerable to job losses. According to a report published by Oxfam International, women lost more than 64 million jobs globally in 2020 alone. The number of job losses is equivalent to 5% of the total jobs held by women. Compared to these women, 3.9% of men lost their jobs during the period. According to the report, this loss of employment due to the Covid-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in earnings, a figure that is more than the combined GDP of 98 countries.
“The economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits, and the least secure jobs. Instead of correcting that wrong, governments treated women’s jobs as dispensable –and that has come at the cost of at least $800 billion in lost wages for those in formal employment”, said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.
Hidden labor for working women
A report published by McKinsey & Company found that the pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment. One in four women is considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers compared to one in five men. While all women have felt the impact, three major groups have experienced some of the most significant challenges: working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women.
Many women complained of their struggles with the “hidden labor” involved in home working during the pandemic. Cooking, cleaning, and emergency childcare have been falling to them instead of their partners, which significantly impacts their ability to do their jobs properly and progress in their careers.
According to Gemma Dale, a human resource consultant and the author of Flexible Working, such strains should be factored into performance reviews and job moves. She said there is “an uneven playing field” now. Women may not be able to perform as they would wish. However, hardly any organization is thinking about what it will mean for women’s careers in the longer term.
A study undertaken by Boston Consulting Group on 14,100 caregivers and parents across six countries — the US, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, and Spain — found that more than half of parents said their home responsibilities had increased during the pandemic. On the other hand, their work performance has decreased. About 43 percent of mothers of children under 12 (compared with 36 percent of fathers) believed they were at a disadvantage over colleagues who did not have children. Meanwhile, 36 percent of European mothers and 48 percent of those in the US felt their employers had supported them during the pandemic.
Interestingly, not everyone is open about their situation. A survey undertaken by a non-profit advocacy group, Catalyst, on 1,000 working parents in the United States on the impact of the pandemic found that 41 percent of mothers and 36 percent of fathers concealed their caregiving struggles. On the other hand, a report published by Birmingham University revealed that the pandemic had prompted men to lean into the domestic sphere. The report found an increase in the “number of couples who indicate that they have shared housework and care activities during the lockdown.” Further information suggests that policies supporting extended paternity leave and flexible working for men may encourage sharing home responsibilities.
Dangers of hybrid arrangement
Most of the surveys conducted to ascertain the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on working women found that both men and women want homeworking to continue alongside working in the office. Many feel that workers who are not visible are often forgotten. Women’s careers usually slow down when they work part-time, especially after having a child. A study undertaken by Catalyst on workplace gender equity in the United States during the pandemic revealed that 45 percent of female business leaders said it “is difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings.” Similarly, 20 percent of women said colleagues in video calls had overlooked them. The same percentage believes that they have witnessed more workplace discrimination since the pandemic started.
The problem with hybrid arrangements is that there is no best practice yet or even many ideas about how this will work in practice. Mixed working is much, much messier than all-remote. It requires significant effort and a whole new range of management skills. Therefore, the employees and the managers should sit down together and devise what would suit them best, especially women.
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