‘Every day 16 billion hours are spent on unpaid care work – it is the backbone of thriving families, communities and economies. This work largely falls on women and increases in times of crisis.’ (source UNWomen.org)
How many women are in your team or organisation? What are you doing to enable them to work as easily as possible?
The usual patterns of our lives have been disrupted by the pandemic. Working women have had even more roles thrust upon them – the hours they spend each day caring and schooling their kids, providing food, doing laundry, and keeping homes clean and healthy come on top of their day job. In some households those chores have been shared out with partners and older kids to create more balance. This is not the case for all women.
Some women are raising children alone.
Some women are divorced and are the sole carers for their kids at the moment because that is what their children have chosen. Many women are caring for disabled family members without the usual help or respite.
Some are at home with older kids who have returned because colleges and universities are working virtually. Some of the older kids are just out of college and looking for their first job in this changed world.
Some women are not only caring for their immediate family but also for elderly or dependent relatives – often at a distance. This might be making regular calls to parents alone in lockdown. It might be ordering food to be delivered to them or running their finances.
Some partnerships are still based on more rigid gender norms of ‘breadwinner’ and ‘homemaker’. Even if a woman is doing paid work they will take on most of the other roles no longer being done by a cleaner, child minder, housekeeper…
Living in lockdown brings all the family members closer together.
For some it is life threatening: statistically the most dangerous place for a woman to be is in her own home (source UN Women.org). There has been an increase in demand for shelter places for women since the start of the pandemic in many countries (atlanticcouncil.org) – this includes the UK and Germany. Nearly 250 million women experience physical or sexual violence each year and it is estimated this number is greater for this period (UN Women).
For many women, who do not experience this violence, living constantly together is still stressful and difficult, at least at times.
Young adults who should be having the time of their life at college are back at home.
Teens are at home 24/7 when they want to be spending more time with their friends.
Managing keeping kids on track with home schooling causes big tensions.
Usually it is Mum who has to deal with this stress and conflict. Smoothing the way. Holding family members accountable for sharing chores especially if she is working.
Many women work in low paid jobs impacted by the lockdown (in the UK job vacancies in retail and hospitality are down by more than 70% (the Guardian)) so may have lost their job or been furloughed.
Many front-line hospital workers, doctors, nurses, teachers, and shop workers across the world are women. (The UN quotes a figure of about 70%). They have increased stress in their days with the risk of COVID 19 and managing working safely. They return home from difficult days to carry on managing others, supporting, and caring.
Many women of colour will experience a more extreme version of this lockdown because of socio- economic differences. Black Asian and Minority Ethnic healthcare workers have been affected disproportionately by COVID 19 in British cities – 61% of those workers that have died have been BAME. This impacts on the women in all those different communities. Some kids have lost their mothers to COVID 19 because of the job she did.
On top of all this BAME women will be living through the events following the death of George Floyd in the US, worried for the safety of their brothers, partners and sons and wanting them to be safe and free to live a good life.
So.. as decision makers and leaders (where only up to 30% are women: source UN Women`) we need to be conscious of the extra pressure women are under.. they need encouragement and support more than ever. We may be unaware of the range of caring roles they do. Good listening to their needs and flexibility about when work happens are key. Female colleagues who lead alongside us will bring insights to how we manage people through this uncertainty from their own experience and skills. Individual women need to be listened to. (We have seen the success of women leaders, Angela Merkel and Jacinda Ahern, handling this pandemic in their countries – looking at evidence – drawing on scientific expertise, listening to colleagues, handling uncertainty, using compassion.)
Women employees who are studying while they work with the hope to advance their career may find it nearly impossible to do so during this period. There are too many different things to juggle to be able to sit down calmly and study. They may need a lot more time to complete their studies.
On the other hand, you have had to furlough women from your company then this could be the perfect time to offer some on-line training.
If you have a mentoring or coaching system in place in your organisation – it could come into its own right now – supporting women in particular so that they can continue to contribute – enabling development and changing work patterns – or enabling them to use the time they are furloughed productively.
If your organisation has no mentoring in place – this could be a good time to introduce it and focus it on women employees especially including BAME women. It will enable them to step back, have time for reflection, career development and most of all the undivided attention of a benevolent person to encourage them through this time. Your organisation can increase understanding of how parenting impacts on people’s work, disproportionately women, and make adjustments to work through this period and for the long term.
Your organisation will be closer to delivering goals set by the United Nations to empower women and enable them to work, reducing inequalities. (Take a look at their sustainable goals on their website and download the app and make a commitment).
This investment of time and attention will build loyalty and trust. Your employees will spread the word of how they have been supported and developed during this time and build the reputation of your organisation as a good place for women to work.
Stay well and have a good week.
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