Has COVID-19 Undone Decades of Advancement for Women in the Workplace? | EAPA-SA

The school and day-care closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, reinstated for a second time from 24 July to 24 August 2020, has again increased care-giving responsibilities for working parents. As a result, many mothers have had to change their work hours to meet these increased demands.

The school and day-care closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, reinstated for a second time from 24 July to 24 August 2020, has again increased care-giving responsibilities for working parents. As a result, many South African mothers have had to change their work hours to meet these increased demands.

Gender disparity for working women over COVID-19 is a global issue

At the beginning of the pandemic, there were great hopes that the global shift to working from home could mean that childcare and chores would be divided more equally among sets of parents. But numerous international studies of working parents’ lives during COVID-19 have shown that a disproportionate share of the burden is still falling on women in partnerships.

Researchers from Boston Consulting Group, which surveyed more than 3,000 people in the US and Europe, found that working women currently spend an average of 15 hours a week more on unpaid domestic labour than men. In Australia, provisional results of a survey by the University of Melbourne suggest that in households with children, parents are putting in an extra six hours a day of care and supervision, with women taking on more than two-thirds of the extra time… Other industry observers stress that even among full-time high-earning women who have so far maintained their careers while caring for children in the pandemic, many are increasingly concluding that the juggling act is unsustainable. A recent United Nations study even warned that the pandemic could dilute decades of advancement on gender equality.

Source:  https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200630-how-covid-19-is-changing-womens-lives

In academic research that used the U.S. Current Population Survey that encompassed the period from February through April 2020, researchers said that the gender gap grew by 20% to 50% over this period meaning that mothers scaled back their work by two hours, or 5% per week, while ‘fathers’ work hours remained largely stable.

Source:  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/gwao.12506 

Fostering gender equality and the productivity of parents working from home

In the event of childcare and school closures, employers can be resourceful about how to help female employees manage work and caring for their children. Here are several ways in which employers can respond to the needs of their employees and offer innovative family-friendly support over the lockdown:

Support mental health and well-being: 

Mental health counselling and support through an organisation’s EAP could help employees cope, particularly women who are bearing the brunt of child care, in continuing to balance work and family needs amid the panic of the crisis. “Helping employees manage potential grief, stress, anxiety, depression, insecurity, isolation, and burn out resulting from the pandemic can contribute toward workforce stability in the long run.” (WHO, 2020)

Support parenting skills:  

Employers can support parents through online platforms. This may include establishing parent support groups and offering parenting workshops to enhance interactions between parents and children, involve children in family activities, and improve children’s self-sufficiency and discipline.

Ask employees who are parents to be radically transparent:  

It is better for managers to check in more than is necessary with work from home parents than not enough. By the same token, if a work-from-home employee is running behind on a deadline, they should say so.  It’s very difficult to tell your boss you’re not fully available, particularly as employment levels have shot up, but if a parent can put in only two or three hours a day they should indicate this, upfront.

Emphasise that what you care about is work predictability:

It’s better to know someone can be counted on for 25 percent of their previous at-work hours than to wonder what they are up to. Managers should try not to worry about the hours employees are working, and instead focus on outcomes and goals. As long as the work gets done, don’t waste energy keeping track of how people are doing it.

Ask all your employees to indicate their working day availability on their calendars:

This will make it easier to schedule meetings and phone calls. It is a good idea to cut back standing meetings to an absolute minimum and rather use meetings for group discussions and decisions – save information-sharing for emails. This will let people whose time is limited get the most important work done, during core hours, uninterrupted.

 If the work itself is suffering, restructure the team’s assignments:

This is not about asking childless employees to shoulder the extra workload.  It is about assigning time-sensitive projects to people who can put in more predictable hours while giving longer-term projects to employees with less certain schedules. It may be a good time to mothball any secondary projects that have only been limping forward. 

Take this opportunity to clean out organisational clutter:

Ask your employees for their input in streamlining systems and processes.

Consider what kind of paid or emergency leave can be offered to working parents:

For some families, a parent being able to take a few weeks off, even without pay, would be a godsend as the reality is they are not going to be able to tackle work plus home commitments.  Companies might be better served by letting these employees off the hook while care centres and school sare closed. 

Reassure leave-taking parents that they will be able to come back:

There may be many parents not taking paid or unpaid leave because they are worried they won’t have a job to come back to. Leave-taking at this time could carry a stigma, which should be dealt with. In the case of a longer leave of absence, employers can help ensure that these employees on leave have access to medical and financial support during this difficult time.

All in all, overworked and stressed out parents will appreciate clear, daily communication with their employers as well as kindness and understanding as they juggle childcare and work obligations. Being flexible and setting realistic goals and expectations in terms of deliverables can go a long way as many employees with full-time childcare responsibilities and limited childcare options may not be able to deliver the same amount of work delivered under normal circumstances. 


https://www.moneyweb.co.za/news-fast-news/parents-work-from-home-struggles-are-employers-problem-too/ | https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/2e12d33a-ce55-46b2-aae5-ee8304a6506a/202004-Childcare-COVID-19-Guide-for-Employers+B.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CVID=ncQxRT9

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels