Women’s Day: How organisations are helping women cope with the ‘new normal’ brought on by COVID-19

Representatives from different organisations tell HerStory what they are doing to help make the lives of women employees easier as they continue navigating the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That women have been badly hit by the pandemic is well known. Working from home and increased familial responsibilities have led to a change in the status quo of women in the workforce today.

According to the LinkedInOpportunity Index released recently, women have been disproportionately impacted amid COVID-19, and the expectations to juggle home and work life have wreaked havoc in their lives.

Consumer sentiment from the report shows that more than seven in 10 working women (71 percent) and working mothers (77 percent) feel that managing familial responsibilities often comes in their way of career development. In fact, about two-thirds of working women (63 percent) and working mothers (69 percent) said they have faced discrimination at work because of familial and household responsibilities.

The McKinsey & Companyreport on gender equality released in September 2020 echoes the same sentiment. It says women’s employment is dropping faster than average, even accounting for the fact that women and men work in different sectors.

The nature of work remains significantly gender specific, with women and men tending to cluster in different occupations. This shapes the gender implications of the pandemic: analysis shows that globally female jobs are 19 percent more at risk than male ones simply because women are disproportionately represented in sectors negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis, such as accommodation and food service.

While gender parity has always been one of the must-debated issues in the Indian workforce, it’s important not to let the pandemic get the better of us when it comes to equal opportunities and trying to cope with the new normal.

Representatives from different organisations tell HerStory what they are doing to help make women’s lives easier as they continue navigating the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

A 24x7 employee assistance programme

The pandemic posed unique and unforeseen challenges for everyone, especially women who are typically the primary caregivers at home. As personal and professional worlds merged, women were the ones who struggled the most as they were expected to transition seamlessly between both worlds, while meeting the demands of each. Anxiety and stress were very high among working women in general and so were concerns around physical health.

We organised sessions on physical and emotional health by experts, providing relevant insights to our women associates so they could take good care of themselves and their families. Our 24X7 Employee Assistance Programme provided professional counselling to women in need of it as they navigated tough situations. Apart from this, opportunities to enhance insurance coverage and a plethora of healthcare benefits helped women associates deal with emergencies at home.

Avneet Hora, Head of Human Resources, Unisys India

Going virtual with help

At ThoughtWorks, we rolled out a few initiatives to help women cope. These include:

Virtual Vapasi - Our technical training programme for women technologists on a career break, has now gone VIRTUAL. We initiated our first virtual batch in November 2020, focusing on developers.

N.O.W (Network of women) - ThoughtWorks N.O.W. is a forum for curious women from all walks of life, looking to be part of an open and inclusive network, to come together to learn from each other and be inspired.

Mental Health & Wellness - The Women@TW Affinity Group is a forum to strengthen and support the gender diversity agenda at TWI. Sessions on work-life balance, tips for working parents on handling kids and work at home, importance of mental health and when to seek support, and living with mindfulness were organised by industry experts to guide our employees in these unprecedented times.

Creating a dialogue space - We organised a session via our women@TW affinity group where participants were asked to reflect, pause, listen, be listened to, and re-connect.

Tina Vinod, Global Head, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, ThoughtWorks

All-round help

Very early into the pandemic, we introduced special COVID leave for people who needed to care for their family or address COVID-related personal exigencies. In April last year, we organised sessions around mental health to help employees address anxiety and social isolation during lockdown. We also facilitated counselling for employees and family members. Additionally, we felt it was important to highlight the message that the burden of care should not just rest with women, and we did this by sharing stories of our male colleagues taking an active role in parenting and housework, while also hosting sessions on parenting as part of our mental health conversations.

To give parents ‘time off’, we also moved our ‘summer camps for kids’ – something we do every year at TI - to a virtual format. Apart from this, we encouraged leaders and managers to speak to their teams and work out schedules that accommodated personal commitments. For instance, teams had their own customised routines, like ‘no meetings in the first half in order to help kids with studies’, etc.

Since this support structure was already in place, we had women employees approaching us for extended time off for childcare or parental care last year, and we were happy to enable that.

Shubhra BhandariDirector HR, India, Texas Instruments

Empowering women in different ways

PayPal has a number of initiatives focused on women. These include:

Unity – A community of women and men are working together to empower women at PayPal. We hosted multiple virtual events as part of Unity, last year. These programmes are aimed at helping women thrive at PayPal though focused learning and development opportunities. In India, the steering committee comprises 50 volunteers, who work to achieve our mission.

Unity Bloom - In partnership with WSquare, we launched Unity Bloom, a training and mentorship programme for 500 women students from across leading engineering colleges in India.

Shadow a leader - The ‘Shadow-a-Leader’ programme offers hands-on mentorship for select employees to gain the insights, skills, and exposure they need to develop leadership qualities.

Emerging Leaders Programme – This is a tailor-made programme for middle management, where we identify high-potential employees (maximum of 150 participants globally).

Jayanthi Vaidyanathan, Senior Director and Head, Human Resources - PayPalIndia

Diverse programmes for wellbeing

During the COVID phase, Uber relooked at its work philosophy and reiterated that the company is, and was built on, rapid action (Hustle) with an intent to always help people. (Heart). With this 'Hustle and Heart' philosophy, the leadership encouraged managers and teams to be empathetic to the unique situation of the teams and address challenges for all the caregivers (including without limitation, women). 

Uber announced the Global Caregiver Enhanced Flexibility Policy for COVID. This policy provides flexible options to parents and caregivers during the extended work-from- home period. Options include workday flexibility, freedom to change daily/weekly schedules (with reason and based on conversations with managers), and changes in shift assignments, should the need arise. Employees could work with their manager to find the best solution that supports the employee and their continued productivity.

Bonus and equity - Cash bonus advances were given to ensure employees were enabled and motivated as they worked remotely.

Office set-up stipend - Stipends were given to enable office set-up at home.

Learning – We launched Degreed, a new skill-building and learning tool customised just for Uber. This works well for women as it is self-paced.

Stella Joshua, Senior HR Business Partner, Tech - Uber

For physical, financial, emotional, and social wellbeing

COVID-19 has had varying degree of impact on everyone, irrespective of their gender. As an organisation, maintaining the balance between business continuity and empathy has been key during this time. The wellbeing of our workforce has been our top priority during this pandemic and some of the initiatives undertaken towards this are:

  • Wellness programme focused on interventions around the physical, financial, emotional, and social wellbeing of our employees.
  • 24X7 Employee Assistance Programme to provide one-to-one support to our employees.
  • Virtual coaching programme for leaders across the organisation to strengthen virtual engagement with their teams. The ‘Leaders as Coaches’ programme aimed to focus on empowering leaders to lead effectively with empathy, providing them with necessary tools to have greater self-insight and support their teams as required.
  • Employees are being encouraged to continue building their competencies through learning modules available on Degreed, our digital learning platform that’s accessible from anywhere, anytime.
  • We also conduct a Pulse Survey from time to time during the COVID period to re-assess employee sentiment and understand how to augment our existing programs. Although the opportunity to work from home was always available to our employees even before COVID, we made sure the transition least affected our employees and enabled them to stay engaged with their workplace/colleagues and feel safe.
  • We are also providing IT support to all employees working from home and additionally have provided work-from-home furniture to all Ericsson employees.

Priyanka Anand, Vice President and Head of HR, South East Asia, Oceania & India, Ericsson

Edited by Teja Lele Desai