Covid-19: A Game Changer for Working Women

A top official at a major IT company who has 50 directs, is on a Zoom call and is also overseeing her kid’s online classes, while her husband is attending a conference call in another room.  An associate who works at a top BPO firm has been working at odd hours, as she is juggling between cooking, cleaning, attending work-related calls and ensuring her kids are paying attention to their Online classes, because her husband is huddled up inside his home office, working. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have resulted in seismic shifts in virtually all aspects of work and life, across the world. It would not be wrong to say that the women have been struggling and juggling to maintain their work-life balance. The 2019 pandemic is undoubtedly the worst one the world has witnessed since the advent of desktop computers. Although computers and modern technology changed the workplace in a very big way, working remotely or working from home for an indefinite period has been unprecedented in India, barring a few roles in a few Corporates. 

When the lockdown began, corporates and employees initially struggled with the concept because the micromanaging culture of corporates and the new way of working demanded empathy, trust, empowerment, and new governance models. Remote working is like any other work practice.  When the foundation is strong and is built on trust and compassion, the practice is sure to be successful.   For NextWealth, it was crude anticipation, robust planning and diligent execution that helped us transform into a 100% Work from Home Organisation in less than 72 hours of announcing the Lockdown.  This diligence ensured we could provide Business Continuity with little or no disruption or compromise to Quality or Quantity of the work being delivered by our teams – taking the Industry leaders and our Customers by surprise!  

“Wassup NextWealth”, an employee poll that was recently conducted by us revealed that 43% of our workforce was enjoying the extra time with their families;   57% respondents believed that saving time and money on commuting to work was the biggest win and 31% felt that they could save money as they were confined to their homes with no avenues to spend their money.  Being from small towns, many of our respondents were proud to work around their family members and felt proud and happy to explain how valuable their contribution at work was.   

When  asked about what they miss most about not being able to work from office, 51% replied that they were missing the energy of being with friends, working as teams and all the  active discussions;   48% of the employee base  were missing the ease of how quickly doubts and issues were resolved while in office.  And 43% of the respondents also stated that tea and lunch breaks with colleagues was greatly missed.

We are all in this together. But, are we, really? While Work from home comes with many perks like flexible schedules, more time with family; saving time and money on commuting to work;  it also comes with its own set of issues – such as improper infrastructure at home, frequent electricity cuts and inequal distribution of household work and responsibilities considering the entire family is confined to the four walls of their homes. For remote working to be entirely successful, gender roles need to be reassessed because most Indian households do not have equal sharing of the housework although the couple may both be working either from home or from office.  .  The workload is usually disproportionately borne by the woman.   This is more widely seen   in small towns where large joint families are still prevalent.  The sudden shift in workplace models are bringing to light the inequality of the burden typically borne by women who work a 8 – 9 hour shift and also carry out a large part of the household chores.    With several lockdowns in lieu of the pandemic, men have become more aware and are more likely to now embrace the idea of gender equality. With companies encouraging dialogues around gender roles, attitudes towards supporting gender identity and gender equality, ambitions of women seem to be changing for the good. With more women, especially in small towns, being more dedicated to their jobs and going the extra mile to ensure that the task assigned to them is completed, the passion and contribution towards their jobs are becoming clearer to families. Large families are slowly but steadily trying to adjust to the timings of the working women at home and help them feel less burdened by the household chores by dividing work amongst all the members of the household.   Whether these changes are attributed to guilt, a genuine desire to contribute, or a simple way to pass time, there is an effort to narrow the gap. The question is whether this change in outlook and behaviour will be  restricted to the lockdown period – hopefully not.

The Covid-19 crisis is global and will last long enough to cause some serious economic and social repercussions.  However, it does offer an opportunity for organisations to take steps for busting the unconscious biases that have crept in and consciously help more women manage their work and home responsibilities. Much before the onset of the virus, working women were excellent multi-taskers, deftly handling home and office responsibilities seamlessly. In all honesty, women who are working from home tend to face multiple interruptions either from children, parents, house help etc. Therefore, this is a situation that is in a way different from working from home on a normal day when the rest of the household is in school or at work.  A post covid era will urge us to think and act differently, question and think about work norms, gender norms, integrity and how we redefine effectiveness and efficiency if we wish to emerge stronger and be battle-ready for any situation the universe might throw at us.  Dealing with a pandemic is tough but as they say “every cloud has a silver lining” -look a little deeper and there might just be things that can be done, moments of joy scattered amidst all this mayhem which might not have been possible at all in normal times, as the saying goes – when life gives you lemons make lemonade! 

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