LINKAGE Q1 (2022) - BREAK THE BIAS
By Gillian Chevrotiere
In 1989, sociologist Arlie Hochschild published a book in which she explored the domestic work that women are expected to deliver in addition to their salaried jobs. She referred to these collective duties as a “second shift” —working hours for which women receive no compensation and little, if any, recognition.
Despite some progress being made to promote gender parity in the workplace, little has been done to structurally address the issue of the “second shift” and gendered expectations of a woman’s role in the household. It is therefore a small wonder that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic hit working women particularly hard. Work-from-home arrangements overlaid women’s (compensated) workdays with domestic duties, with especially burdensome consequences for those women with childcare obligations.
The impact of this new paradigm needs to be urgently addressed, as more women are reporting fatigue, burnout and health problems, and many have either opted to leave their jobs or are considering doing so. While there is a degree of cultural adaptation that needs to take place in terms of the division of domestic labour, employers have a major role to play in helping promote work-life integration and sustaining the levels of female participation in the workforce.
As Senior Manager of Human Resources at The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (NGC), and as a working mother and spouse myself, I am heavily invested in addressing this issue.
One of the first steps that must be taken is an acknowledgement of the issue. As studies such as Deloitte’s of 2020 have pointed out, we must recognise that women have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
When the pandemic took hold in 2020, lives and livelihoods across the world were disrupted. There was a mass migration of work functions to digital platforms, and an attendant shift from company workstations to home offices. However, for many, there was no space that could be used for work that was separate from living quarters. Dining tables, bedrooms and living rooms became makeshift offices. For those women who usually carry the “second shift”, work-from-home suddenly meant a confluence of office tasks and household chores such as cooking, washing, cleaning and taking care of children and in some cases grandchildren who were now learning-from-home.
For me, and many others, work-from-home has become everything-from-home. Home is now a workplace, school, restaurant, church and sometimes barely a place of rest. Like many, I have been balancing four children while engaged in full-time work and I too have experienced that constant pressure to constantly get more done.
The stresses of juggling work and household duties simultaneously without temporal or spatial separation of these tasks have taken a toll. According to Pew Research, between February 2020 and February 2021, 2.4 million women left the paid workforce in the USA alone due to pandemic stressors. A 2021 Deloitte report shared that most surveyed women cited increased workloads at their jobs, increased responsibilities at home, and a “lack of work-life balance” as factors that informed their decision to leave their jobs.
The mass resignation of women from the workforce comes at a price. In the American context, the Center for American Progress estimated that if the withdrawal of mothers from the workforce is sustained over the long term, it could have a US$64.5 billion impact in terms of lost wages and economic activity annually. Extrapolating from this figure, the global economy stands to lose significantly over the coming years if the trend continues.
For those women who choose to keep working, mental exhaustion due to constant multitasking translates into reduced capacity for optimal performance. As a result, there is an unquantifiable opportunity cost associated with overburdening women. Stress can impact their ability to innovate, problem-solve and extract maximum value from their talents. Ultimately, this can ripple outward and affect productivity at the national level.
On the home front, as the majority of women carry the lion’s share of childcare duties, burnout can also affect the quality of care that mothers can manage to give. If fathers, as supporting adults, do not share in the burden, there can be risk of erosion of the family unit, with wider societal implications.
We often say it is difficult to find work-life balance, particularly during this time, but as women, caregivers and professionals we are really required now to be intentional about attaining an integration of work and life.
Achieving this requires commitment from both the employer and the employee. To draw on an insightful Deloitte study, the following are key considerations for companies:
1. Leaders must lead with empathy: Employers should regularly check in with employees to understand their individual circumstances and needs, with due consideration for the particular challenges facing working women. Then take the next step and work through solutions and ways to assist. Additionally, female leaders must also be advocates for their fellow female team members.
2. Diversity, mutual respect and inclusivity must be commonplace: Women often face micro-aggressions such as exclusion from projects or even meetings due to assumptions. Companies must build a culture of inclusion that values equality and insists on the input of women, and must actively encourage retention and progression. Due to the said dilemmas of women in this environment, employers must ensure equal opportunities are provided to actively participate at all levels.
3. Remove unconscious biases in people processes: Leaders must recognise and eliminate the risk of unconscious bias as it relates to the eligibility of women for reward and promotion programmes. Individual circumstances must be weighed appropriately.
4. Creative approaches to learning which fit into daily life: In order for women to progress in their careers, training and development opportunities must be made available. There should be specially tailored or curated programmes that allow for flexible and independent learning, to accommodate women with competing demands on their time.
While employers work on improvements within their remit, I believe a lot also falls on us as women, to take charge of our lives and better manage our stresses, communicate expectations, ask for help, find a quiet space or create it. We can do it.
1. Change your mindset: No one is perfect; you should acknowledge when you are doing your best.
2. Release some of the load: You cannot do everything and be everything to everyone. Ask for help—it is not a sign of vulnerability but of recognition that you do not always have to do it alone.
3. Set boundaries: Determine what you can and cannot do; will and will not do. Establishing boundaries and sticking to them ease the possibility of becoming overburdened.
4. Be flexible: When creating your schedule, build in some flexibility. In a pandemic, structure and flexibility cannot be mutually exclusive.
5. Self-care: Be intentional and do something for you. As mothers, this is often difficult but greater efforts should be made. Start small in order to not become disappointed.
6. Make special time for your family: I include my children in my calendar: set expectations and boundaries early and do not discount the value of reward when they stick to their schedules.
Even as the world opens up from the COVID-19 pandemic, new international geopolitical developments, coupled with climate action imperatives, could prolong the period of remote work in many countries. Indeed, a hybrid model of work that encompasses both work-from-home and office-based arrangements, work-life integration and the skills required in the future will dominate people’s discussions at many companies, including NGC and its group of companies. In light of this, it is imperative that we give due consideration to the different ways in which stressors can manifest for all employees but especially women under such arrangements.
The cost of inaction in terms of impact on women’s health, impact on the family unit and reduced participation of women in the workforce is simply too high. Start the conversations, act where you can and offer support.
Gillian Chevrotiere is the Senior Manager, Human Resource at The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago
62 Maraval Road,
Newtown, Port of Spain
T: (868) 622-0340, 622-4466,
F: (868) 628-9428
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