Working Women Adversely Affected by Pandemic but Fostering Inclusive Workplaces can Help

Working Women Adversely Affected by Pandemic but Fostering Inclusive Workplaces can Help

By: Rachita Sharma | Monday, 24 May 2021

Vidya, a social media analysts at a leading IT firm in Bangalore has recently been complaining of recurring back pain. She credits this malady to her 14 hour work days. Things were not the same before the lockdown and she would finish work by 5:00 pm and be home soon after. However, with the Work from Home setup, Vidya feels like she has to be on the time. Not only has the increasing work pressure taken a toll on her physical health but it has also adversely affected her mental wellbeing. Vidya has also been on the lookout for a job switch but unfortunately not many firms are hiring in the midst of a raging pandemic. She has no choice but to endure the back pain, long working hours and dull outlook on her professional future.

Vidya’s story is not an isolated example. The pandemic and the resultant lockdown has severely impacted women’s wellbeing and professional outlook across the globe. A recent global survey released by Deloitte titled, Woman@Work: A Global Outlook found that post the onset of the pandemic, women are more stressed and pessimistic about their careers. The changes in work setup owing to Covid-19 have also adversely impacted women’s wellbeing and relationship with their employer. While a handful of organizations have been providing support to women working from home, yet a majority of the organizations have been witnessing a drop in women’s morale owing to longstanding non-inclusive workplace cultures.

Prior to the pandemic, the gender ratio in the workforce globally was already very low. However, with the pandemic being in full swing employment losses for women stood at 5 percent in 2020 as compared to 3.9 percent for their male counterparts. Gender parity has been massively hit over the last year as women had to step up to take care of a majority of household and caregiving responsibilities while also dealing with work.

The study took into account 5,000 women from across 10 countries between November 2020 and March 2021. It set out to delve into factors such as work lives, experiences during the pandemic and career expectations for the future. The resultant outcomes are disappointing to say the least.

Shouldering Unequal Responsibilities

The most startling finding has been the negative impact the pandemic has had on women’s wellbeing. It was found that most employers have failed to enable healthy boundaries between work and home. Of the total women surveyed only 22 percent believed that their employers have enabled them to establish clear boundaries between work and personal hours. A whopping 77 percent respondents felt that their workload has also increased.

Women have more responsibilities in terms of managing a home and caregiving which has resulted in an increase in amount of work. 66 percent women said that they shoulder the greatest responsibility for household tasks, and more than half of respondents with children said that they handle the majority of childcare. Other than mothers, women taking care of other dependents have also been massively impacted. Almost 80 percent of women in such caregiving roles have the greatest responsibility for household tasks within their homes.

Always On Culture Hampering Morale

With poorly set boundaries, close to 31 percent of the women felt that they were unable to “switch off” from work since the pandemic. For a majority of them (more than 50 percent0 this feeling was driven by a fear that doing so will affect their career progression. 33 percent respondents were afraid that they might be excluded from important projects. Of them 15 percent women said that if they are not always available to their employer they may be forced to make a decision between their work and personal lives. There is clearly something broken here if women are being asked to make a choice between their professional and personal lives.

It therefore does not come as a surprise that 51 percent of women currently feel less optimistic about their career prospects than they did before the pandemic. 42 percent women felt that their career wasn’t progressing as fast as they would like and 29 percent of these respondents believed that it was due to their poor mental health.

Several women also felt that their employer’s commitment to supporting women has been inadequate during the crisis. Only 35 percent of respondents felt supported by their employer and only 39 percent women felt their employer’s commitment to women since the pandemic started has been sufficient.

Non-Inclusive Culture to Blame

Much like in the regular work structures, women continue to battle with non-inclusive behavior at work even during the pandemic. The study found that over 50 percent women have experienced some form of harassment or micro-aggression in the past year. Be it someone questioning their judgment owing to their gender or facing disparaging and/or sexual comments. The study also revealed that women of color are more likely to experience comments about their communication style while LGBT+ women were almost four times more likely than other women to experience jokes of a sexual nature.

Compelled by such behavior a majority of these women (who have experienced non-inclusive behaviors) might even consider leaving their employers and the workforce altogether, even during these uncertain times.

Out of the total sample, 57 percent respondents said that they plan to leave their current job within two years, and 21 percent of them expect to be gone in less than a year.

What can Employers do? A Lot!

With numbers telling a devastating story, there is some hope and redemption after all. The survey found that close to four percent of women said that their organizations have built inclusive, flexible, and high-trust cultures that support women.

The study has named these group of organizations as “gender equality leaders”. These organizations took steps such as fostering work environments where women feel confident reporting non-inclusive behaviors, feel supported by employers in balancing work and home commitments. Women at these organizations feel that their careers are progressing as fast as they would like. These women also reported considerably higher levels of productivity, mental wellbeing, and job satisfaction than women at “lagging” organizations.

With these responses, it is evident that organizations can benefit greatly by creating an inclusive and supportive culture. If the blueprint is followed and implemented not only will women feel more supported but companies will also benefit from highly motivated workforce.