Can remote working contribute to an equitable workforce?
The pervasive effects of the pandemic on business across the globe fast-tracked an already emerging trend: remote working.
The flexibility of this work model has been proven to be especially beneficial for working women across different stages of their career. It enables them to pursue their professional aspirations while also fulfilling familial obligations with greater ease.
However, it will be difficult to strike a balance between the two in the absence of a holistic and inclusive corporate response from their employer. Hence, organisations need to introduce gender-sensitive and family-friendly policies to effectively mitigate the challenges of the new work-life design.
Why should businesses step in?
The pandemic has revealed the longstanding gender inequities that exist in domestic spaces. One of the key reasons why women feel forced to step aside from their jobs is the compounded responsibilities of work and personal life.
A global study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) revealed that a greater number of women lost their livelihoods since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, as compared to men. While the numbers are distressing, it is also a wake-up call for businesses to scrutinise existing workplace policies and eliminate barriers that prevent women from professional advancement.
Businesses have the responsibility to assume a much larger role in developing a framework that empowers women at every level and dispels provisions to sustain gender inequity. However, it is pertinent to note that there is no silver bullet that can cause systemic changes. Policies and provisions must be modified and rectified based on the context.
Listen and acknowledge
Business leaders should create a platform where women employees can voice their perspectives and challenges of the present work-life paradigm. A feedback mechanism should also be implemented to monitor their efficacy.
Leaders must also be willing to acknowledge challenges faced by women in the company and take accountability for organisational missteps that might have occurred in the past.
Steps towards inclusion are inadequate if the processes within the company are not sensitive to the experiences of their women employees. For instance, toolkits and templates of work calendars can be shared with the teams; these can be customised according to their convenience and overall team goals.
Furthermore, they can be encouraged to set boundaries at work, focus on self-care, and take paid time-offs. KPIs and performance expectations must be designed to accommodate unique work circumstances.
There is an urgent need to expand the definition of employee well-being. The gendered imbalance in caregiving can exact a significant mental toll on women. This gets compounded by the uncertainty and anxiety around the pandemic-led events around them.
Leaders must identify and provide support to their women workforce through professional mental health services, Employment Access Program (EAPs), and resource groups within the organisation. They can also share a repository of referrals for child care and elderly care.
Employee benefits can be revisited to ensure that they are provisions for financial and medical assistance that can be seamlessly accessed by the women in the organisation.
If done right, remote working is better
It is often challenging and discouraging for women to re-enter the workforce after a prolonged period of absence either due to pregnancy, health issues, or other commitments. New mothers, especially, are often faced with a bottleneck - prioritising between childcare or their career. This often pushes them to downshift or in extreme cases, exit the company. Increased flexibility can, however, enable them to discover a better balance between the two.
Furthermore, in the absence of geographical limitations, women can explore a larger spectrum of employment opportunities better suited to their talent, experience, and context.
If travelling to work is not a necessity, they can also save on commute expenses, vehicle maintenance, fuel and parking fees, (in case they own a vehicle), and public transit fare. A spike in disposable income translates into more money that women can direct towards investments.
The ongoing pandemic is a highly turbulent period for the workforce across the globe, but it has been especially challenging for working women. A higher level of flexibility within workplace promises to enable more women to be a part of the labour market.
To unleash the full potential of this opportunity, business leaders must develop frameworks that ensure positive outcomes for women, enables them to navigate through restrictive social structures, and eventually catalyses societal change.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)