COVID-19, Gender and the Workplace: Could this be the push we have been waiting for to truly transform workspaces | EAPA-SA

Article submitted by Sixolile Ngcobo

I cannot help but wonder if whether the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic has been the push that we have been waiting, for , for us to shift gear in our pace of transforming workspaces. In the past +80 days both employers and employees have found collective mutual solutions to save jobs, profits and lives. Why has it been so easy to agree on the new ways of working, never in the history of work has remote working become the buzz word as a workspace. Was it driven by the fear of diminishing profits and eminent jobs loses? Considering that making the workplace a conducive environment for gender and working parents has never been seen as profitable until COVID 19 entered our work and home life and forced all of us to ponder and act.

“The United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs ) are a set of seven principles offering guidance to business on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. During this time of upheaval and uncertainty, the WEPs are a great resource for the private sector to help them protect the most vulnerable groups. The WEPs are informed by international labour and human rights standards and are grounded in the recognition that businesses have both a stake in and a responsibility for gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

The outbreak of COVID-19 has not only affected working parents but has disappointedly affected single parents, parents of children with special needs, working people with core caring roles. The lockdown has normalised the presence of children in the workplace as home is now the workplace. The caring role of parents has intersected with the professional office role and the world has not vanished. Was this the push we have been waiting for to truly transform workspaces: spare rooms, dining tables, garden tables, kitchen tops have become our workspaces and we continue to be productive and even more engaged as the workforce. What have we done right?

According to Suzy Levy, the managing director of The Red Plate consultancy. “For men working from home for the first time, Covid-19 has given them a taste of what life could be like,”. “They are actually seeing their children and they are understanding the loss of what they had before”. According to the BWASA Women in Leadership Census only 4,7 % of SOEs and JSE listed firms have female CEOs and only 7.1% of the same have female Board Chairpersonship. One can only hope that the experiences of remote working under lockdown will shift and influence decisions to take urgent action to transform the workplace.

Beyond and during the lockdown employers can ease the burden and the impact of the pandemic on their employees by for example giving working parents the time, information, services and resources, they need to cope with the crisis through the introduction of family-friendly policies and practices, such as the provisions for paid leave to care for family members (beyond government regulations ) and finally, flexible working arrangements and access to remote working tools.


Sixolile Ngcobo

Sixolile Ngcobo

Sixolile Ngcobo is a seasoned gender and sustainable development specialist, also trained in psychology and workplace employee wellness. She has over 20 years of work experience in various institutions including international, regional and local South Africa based non-governmental organisations, has worked in the private sector for a while and is now working for a Chapter 9 South African Constitutional Body, the Commission for Gender Equality(CGE) that is mandated to promote respect for gender equality and she runs her consulting firm the Well Health Company founded in 2015. She writes in her professional capacity and practice experience.

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