It seems likely that some changes in the way we work resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic will be permanent. In a previous post, I summarized research emerging about the differential impact of the pandemic on women who are parents. Family caregiving, previously expected to be kept private and not mentioned at work, has been on full display as everyone works from home during the pandemic and children crawl into parents’ laps during online meetings. In addition, research reveals an unequal distribution of work within heterosexual couples, with housework, childcare, and homeschooling responsibilities falling predominantly on women; a dramatic reduction in publications for women in academia; and a higher incidence of women reducing their work hours during the pandemic with possible long-term career consequences.
Alison Goldman, writing for The Lily, suggests that organizations can learn from the experience of this pandemic about how to create more supportive and inclusive office cultures. She cites a study by Catalyst showing that 71 percent of working people believe that Covid-19 will make a positive impact on gender equality in the workplace. Specifically, she notes, “It’s possible to incorporate inclusivity focused work-from-home revelations into office culture once things start returning to ‘normal,’ but we need to be intentional about it.”
What are the five changes that Goldman suggests that could make a positive difference in gender equality at work?
- Talk more about everyone’s our personal life. Instead of trying to hide the fact that they have children, as they felt pressured to do before the pandemic, working parents now have their family lives in the open as they work from home. Goldman cites Daisy Dowling, founder and chief executive of Workparent, a consulting firm focused on working parents, as saying that “making the personal professional” can build empathy and breed communication about what is most helpful for each individual on a team. In fact, Dowling notes, managers can learn to ask open-ended questions to learn more about the needs of their team members, such as “Are there any ways in which I’d be helpful to you as you think about staying at this organization for the long-term?”
- Reconsider the company approach to telecommuting. Many organizations have been surprised by how productive workers are when they work from home. Not all jobs can be done by telecommuting, but a surprising number can. Remote work also allows for more racial diversity in hiring when the company is not physically located where diverse populations live. Physical location no longer needs to matter for hiring. Telecommuting should become a more prevalent way of working, which can greatly benefit both working parents and organizations.
- Consider more flexible work options. Flexibility can mean more than just working from home. Work hours and days can also be flexible to accommodate family life. The author goes back to her suggestion of organizations and managers directly asking their employees what would be helpful to them to be most efficient. Many women I know cannot imagine their bosses ever showing this kind of interest and concern about the challenges of balancing work and family life. Unsupportive bosses are the reason many talented women leave companies.
- Provide management training for how to support remote workers and working parents. More than ever, managers need to know how to support today’s workforce for maximum productivity. Goldman notes that “managers are spending more time on employee care” and development. Many managers don’t have these skills.
- Offer support for workers outside of the office. This includes providing a budget for setting up a home office and childcare.
Parents, particularly working mothers, could benefit a great deal from these changes. Working mothers would not have to damage their careers by cutting back to part-time work, financial support for childcare could make working full-time more possible, and organizations would be able to keep talented workers who might otherwise have to leave. Working fathers would also benefit and could be more available and inclined to share housework, childcare, and homeschooling equitably without damaging their careers. These changes could be a win-win for all of us.
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash