Gender Equality & Social Inclusion in the Time of COVID-19

Tips for workplace resilience

The lights at the office, store, or factory are switched off. As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spreads across the globe, staff have been sent home to work remotely. 

Outside, the streets have emptied out, transformed into a diminished version of a typical work week’s bustling, jostling movement and routine.

Yet behind closed doors, your team member’s laptop is balanced next to a growing mountain of unwashed dishes and kids’ schoolwork. The television loudly broadcasts the most recent statistics on the pandemic’s toll, while someone at home starts coughing.

Meeting Friday’s project deadline never seemed more impossible.

Asking team members to pivot to home-based work during lockdown isn’t easy. Working parents are frantically juggling roles as remote employees, daycare providers, and interim teachers and nurses.

Single mothers and fathers are particularly hard hit by the double caregiver-breadwinner burden during this time of physical distancing and home-based work, and two-parent households are also overwhelmed by their increasing responsibilities.

Couples with children

Lone

parent

One person

Couple, no children

Extended family (may include children)

Luckily, you’ve got this. As a workplace leader, you know that happier teams = greater productivity.

You are ready to step in during this tough time to prioritize your team’s wellbeing, while simultaneously streamlining workflows through effective teleworking.

This is your plan of action:

1

Even before the global pandemic broke out, women globally were grappling with

3x more

unpaid housework and care work than men

Resources & Tools

Coronavirus relief options (US Small Business Administration)

Consult with team members about their availability to work and provide flexible leave.

Traditionally, women have often been expected to be glowing, smiling superwomen who can “do it all.” Now, already-uneven care burdens are growing more lopsided as schools and daycare shut down, family members grow sick, and household hygiene routines intensify. 

  • If financially possible, consider allowing partially or fully paid leave for those with less flexibility in their schedules. Target team members who are fathers as well as mothers to support equitable caregiving.

  • If your company does not have comprehensive leave policies, support auditing and modifying current HR policies when possible to ensure a family-friendly approach and coverage of both part-time and full-time staff.

  • Many businesses, especially small businesses or those in the service industry, may not currently be in the position to provide paid leave, but are eligible for special COVID-19 government-sponsored or private loans or benefits, which may help ease the financial burden. Research your country’s specific opportunities and consider applying.

2

3

85%

of new fathers say they'd be

"willing to do anything"

to be involved with caring for their new child

Resources & Tools

Implement flexible hours, project deadlines, and performance targets.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace flexibility has been linked to greater employee satisfaction, greater productivity, and reduced stress. When all working members in a household can access flexible working arrangements, they have the tools and the time to equitably distribute household and caregiving responsibilities. Create a caring culture that values your team’s responsibilities at home, whether that means caring for a family member who has COVID-19, helping kids keep up with their education, or maintaining a clean and safe house. This may include flexing non-essential deadlines or allowing team members to work non-standard hours.

20%

of remote workers globally identify

loneliness

as the biggest struggle of remote working.

Resources & Tools

Check in on team members’ mental health regularly.

Self-quarantining, managing the demands of work and home life, and emotionally coping with the current world reality can lead to stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed. Many people who have shifted to working from home due to COVID-19 may miss the social interactions at work. In fact, remote workers have traditionally struggled with loneliness and isolation. Regular video calls, chatting applications, and emails are effective communication channels that, when appropriately used, can be leveraged to organize workflows and also stay connected on a personal level.

  • Encourage the team to brainstorm creative approaches, such as scheduling a virtual coffee hour or lunch, online yoga session, or other activities for interested team members. 

  • Share self-care resources and tips and check in on each other regularly.

4

30%

of women worldwide have experienced

intimate partner violence.

Resources & Tools

Resources for employers (Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence)

Resources for coworkers/survivors (Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence)

Provide resources to support survivors of domestic violence.

During the current COVID-19 global quarantine, domestic violence rates are spiking as victims are locked in with their abusers and cut off from existing support networks. For survivors, intimate partner violence often leads to post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and sleep disorders, and also negatively impacts their ability to focus at work. In fact, it is estimated that violence against women costs the global economy $1.5 trillion annually, given direct costs and labor productivity losses.

  • Learn to recognize signs of violence and respond appropriately. 

  • Share resources with your team, such as the national domestic violence hotline number and contact information for local shelters or support organizations. 

  • Continue paying all workers so they have the economic resources to get out if necessary.

5

In just two weeks in March,
Asian Americans reported

1,135 incidents

of racial discrimination, with
women two times more likely
to experience it than men.

Resources & Tools

Implicit Association Tests to examine unconscious bias (Harvard University)

Report an incident of discrimination (Asian Americans Advancing Justice)

Interrupting microaggressions (College of the Holy Cross)

Prevent discrimination and social stigma.

Chinese workers and those belonging to other Asian ethnicities have been unfairly subjected to discriminatory verbal abuse, attacks, and microaggressions blaming them for the pandemic. The workplace—including the new remote environment—is no place for this.

  • Share learning materials with the team to help them recognize and mitigate unconscious bias. 

  • Send out an email reminding everyone of your anti-discrimination policies and encourage workers to proactively report incidents.

You've got this.

You care about your workers, and taking a moment to think through how working virtually affects them in these new ways will make your team members happier and your company stronger.

Good luck.

This practical guidance is part of an ongoing series on gender equality, social inclusion, and COVID-19.

Equilo uses the most recent data, validated research, and technology to deliver analysis and action planning for pressing international development and workplace equality issues. If you are interested in tailored deliverables for tackling gender equality and social inclusion in your organization's COVID-19 response or other work, contact us at [email protected].

Selected References:

Bick, R., Chang, M., Wang, K. W., & Yu, T. 2020. A blueprint for remote working: Lessons from China. McKinsey. 

Gupta, J. 2020. What does coronavirus mean for violence against women? Women's Media Center.

Jeung, R. 2020. Incidents of coronavirus discrimination, March 26 - April 1, 2020. A3PCON, & CAA.

Johnsen, E. 2020. Talking about COVID-19: A call for racial, economic, and health equity. The Opportunity Agenda.

UNICEF, ILO, & UN Women. 2020. Family-friendly policies and other good workplace practices in the context of COVID-19: Key steps employers can take.

Wenham, C., Smith, J., & Morgan, R. 2020. COVID-19: The gendered impacts of the outbreak. The Lancet.

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