What will be the future of work for women in a post-COVID world?
The global spread of the coronavirus, the consequent lockdown in many countries, and adherence to norms like self-isolation and social distancing have seen a large number of organisations move to a work-from-home format.
Even as restrictions are being slowly lifted in India, it will be a long time before we can go back to the pre-pandemic era. With no vaccine in sight and no cure for the coronavirus, companies are being cautious about reopening their offices to employees.
Tech giants like Google and Facebook have already extended their work-from-home policy to the end of 2020 while Twitter has said that its employees can work from home forever.
In the Indian startup ecosystem, Unacademy has announced that 60 percent of its 1,000-strong workforce will work from home. Indian tech companies like TCS and HCL are also looking at a major portion of employees working from home.
As the workplace enters the home for an indefinite period, what does it mean for women? Already saddled with juggling office work, household chores, and childcare, and some RWAs refusing entry to domestic help in major cities, women are bearing the brunt of additional work.
But the good news is employers are considering the long-term effects of working from home by tweaking policies in favour of women. The mental bias towards working from home is long gone, with startups and organisations realising it can be the new efficient as well.
We spoke to spokespersons from a few companies to understand how they are planning to make the future of work easier for women in a post-COVID world.
Bullish on diversity
My belief is once things start getting back to normal, and, subject to which industries are able to operate, life for women may not be different. At Ecom Express, we continue to be bullish on our diversity and inclusion journey, and would like to create more opportunities for female colleagues.
The ecommerce industry is expected to be growing at a higher pace in line with what is being observed across the world, and we are keen to bring more women into our workforce.
The first and most critical acknowledgement will have to be of the exponential increase in the care burden and household duties that has fallen almost exclusively on working professional women. It’s time not only for improvement, but also improvisation. We are working towards supporting and facilitating ease of work and living for women juggling between office and home, or working from home in many parts of the country.
We are reviewing all our policies to suit the post-COVID era. In line with our plan for the year, all policies will be tuned to suit the D&I need.
There are examples within the Ecom Express system where women have been assigned roles that would largely be considered male ones. Be it a female cluster head in Tinsukia district of Assam to a woman in-charge of a distribution centre in Sonepat and a state head in Jharkhand, who made it to the top after working as a customer sales executive for two years with the company.
Saurabh Deep Singla, Sr. Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer, Ecom Express Private Limited
Numerous programmes and benefits
We can expect the work-from-home culture to stay post-COVID as well, which will allow women to juggle work-life and household tasks simultaneously. This new workplace structure generates more quality time for a woman with her family.
I have three tips for women who are juggling between office and home, using the acronym HER.. so you can remember these as HER tips.
H is to help. Don’t hesitate to offer and ask for help. Wherever possible, extend help to your family, co-workers, teams, and the community at large. This pandemic is a societal problem and we all need to behave like responsible citizens and give back to society as well. Many a time, we think we can be superhuman and hesitate to ask for help. Don’t shy away from asking for help.
E is for Energy and Energise – It is important to look after your own health and well-being. I don’t miss my exercises a single day. Eat healthy and nutritious food. Energise others; be positive and spread positivity.
R is for Resilience – You are the one who owns and has the ability to pick yourself up. It is but natural to feel low at times… but don’t allow yourself to remain in that zone for long. Bounce back.
Our HR team is regularly connecting with people managers through HR Round Tables to enable them to keep their teams motivated, hear the concerns they and their teams are facing, and have informal chats about working from home for an extended period.
More one-on-one sessions are being conducted with the employees to stay connected, keep them motivated and engaged. We are also trying to lift our employees’ morale across the globe by rolling out engaging contests, giving them an opportunity to also capture and share their moments with their family.
We are also offering global benefits like the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – confidential, virtual counselling for employees. Our global Helping Hand Fund assists any employees around the world who are dealing with unexpected financial hardships.
We continue to make progress through our commitment to Paradigm for Parity, following a five-point roadmap –one point apt for this situation is Base Career Progress on Business Results and Performance, Not on Presence. Our other programmes like sponsoring women for success, women’s leadership, women on the rise, part-time, and relaunch will also support this goal.
Shirin Salis, Vice President – HR, Trane Technologies India
Hybrid model of working
The future of work for both women and men will change as companies adopt a hybrid model of working. Those with special needs will need to be accommodated at an individual level, in a gender-neutral way.
Our policies have always been gender-neutral and women-friendly at the same time. While we strive for a more equal society, we understand that women in our society may require more support from their companies to juggle work and personal obligations. We will work with our respective female employees to understand the gaps in the WFH arrangement and help find the most conducive solution.
Working from home allows many women an opportunity to earn a living while being at home, opening up opportunities like never before. In addition we’re also rolling out employee-friendly policies allowing team members to effectively juggle home responsibilities and truly integrating for a work-life balance that suits the employee the best.
Aswathy Palakkal, Head - HR, Dunzo
Biases and attitudes have shattered
The good news is that work from home is no longer considered inefficient. Those biases and mental barriers have been shattered in the last two months so everyone at Emcure is more open to this concept.
Work-from-home would be easier for certain roles such as medico marketing, legal, communication, and data analytics. For others such as factory manager, brand manager, and HR, which involve managing large teams, work from home may not be most optimum format. As a result, women who need flexibility can opt for the roles that are conducive to work from home.
Also, most companies are thinking about cost optimisation and many roles will move to a consulting model. This will also help women, especially those who have taken a break and want to re-enter the workforce as freelancers and consultants.
Namita Thapar, Executive Director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Founder-CEO, Incredible Ventures
Edited by Teja Lele Desai