We have witnessed and experienced how this pandemic has set companies and working professionals back by more than anyone could have imagined. But a closer look reveals that women in the workforce have been impacted the most by the pandemic. The burden of managing work and home, loss of jobs, salary cuts, had doubled, taking a toll on their mental and physical wellbeing.
According to Mckinsey, women are 1.3 times more likely than men to have considered stepping out of the workforce or slowing down their careers due to the pressures of COVID-19. In India, where the percentage of working women is far less, the impacts have been significant. The same report also suggested that Indian women spent an estimated 30 percent more time on domestic work. This disproportionate impact of COVID-19 — aptly nicknamed The Pink Pandemic — was felt by working women, who faced the primary burden of caregiving and handling household chores.
The need to reduce gender disparity in employment
Just months before the pandemic-related lockdowns came into effect, India slipped four ranks on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index 2019-2020, ranking 112 out of 153. "The condition of women in large fringes of India’s society is precarious. It has lost four positions since the previous edition, despite a small score improvement, as some countries ranked lower than India have improved more," the report said. It also noted that the gap was particularly deep in economic participation and opportunity for women, worsening every year since 2006.
The vulnerabilities exposed by COVID-19 appear to be the wake-up call that businesses needed. Many organizations have begun sensitizing their male workforce to support, be there at crucial times, and ensure to maintain the work life does not crossover into their personal lives. Recent research from Skillsoft on expectations of the Asia-Pacific workforce from their workplaces post-COVID found the top two issues to be flexible work for parents of both genders (38 percent) and the hiring and supporting of older workers (33 percent). Issues like equal gender representation in leadership, equal maternity, and paternity leave, closing the gender pay gap garnered 25 percent weightage each. The research points to an increasing push for policies to address diversity concerns across the region — a trend likely to strengthen as younger generations become part of the workforce.
How to increase diversity at the workplace
What every working woman needs right now is the ability to have flexibility in their work life. Especially for those who take care of infants and young children as kids need more flexible workplace to help them balance the competing priorities. So, what does flexibility really mean? By providing work hours that suit their daily routines, they can start off their day after taking care of their kids and taking breaks when required. To help them focus on their overall well-being, organizations can direct them to needed services. Most importantly ensure women are being represented and included in all the planning and decision-making activities especially in the crisis response teams.
Employers looking to address these concerns should take a leaf out of the book How to Increase Female Leadership in Your Company by Janice Gassam. Some of her recommendations include:
● Increasing the role of women in leadership and business strategy
● Being transparent about diversity ratios and goals and gender pay gaps
● Providing women mentorship services and preparing them for leadership roles
● Reviewing company policies to make them more conducive for women, including enforcing equal pay across gender and racial lines
● Educating all employees about appropriate workplace behavior, and the role of unconscious bias and prejudices in the enabling of inequality in workplaces
While gender parity in Asia-Pacific workplaces is far from desired levels, the situation is gradually improving, with countries like Singapore making significant progress over the past decade. The improvements have been a result of government measures, activism, and economic and technological changes, among other things. In India, for example, it is now mandatory for companies to have at least one female director following a directive by the Securities and Exchange Board of India. But even as most of the top 1,000 listed companies have adhered to the rule, these male-dominated boards are still far off from being inclusive.
It is clear that to achieve the desired gender equality in Asia-Pacific, particularly in developing companies like India, much more administrative and policy-level intervention is necessary. Bridging gender gaps will be crucial for these economies to grow and expand to their maximum potential. And considering the present developments, achieving this goal is no longer a matter of possibility but merely that of time.