By Hira Ali
There is growing concern that gender-based inequalities around the world will soon surge, reversing progress on gender equality and sustainable development goals.
Losing ground at this stage will have dire consequences for women, especially when we have come this far. It’s imperative that women, girls, and other vulnerable groups are at the center of all efforts during and after this crisis.
Here’s how organizations can help.
Build awareness of the crisis’s impact on women.
Earlier recessions have demonstrated that the disadvantaged are less resilient financially and socially; some groups even face intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination.
We need to implement interventions in a way that does not perpetuate harmful gender norms, discriminatory practices, and inequalities.
To avoid that, it’s critical we are aware of how detrimental the crisis will be for women and how that impact will differ between genders.
Ensure women are included in key decisions and influential positions.
Research proves that diversity leads to richer, more productive, and more sustainable decisions. Yet, women comprise just 25% of global health leadership, and they’re also underrepresented in COVID-19 global health decision-making and leadership bodies. This is symptomatic of our wider society, where women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles and boardrooms.
UN Women recommends a multi-stakeholder engagement, which ensures a gender-sensitive response to the Coronavirus guided by women politicians, key influencers, and decision makers.
Women’s voices and interests need to be reflected in the decision-making processes. We also need to ensure women are represented on task forces and response teams.
Support working parents.
The disproportionate burden of home chores during lockdown has squeezed women, leaving them fatigued and anxious. That burden is especially encumbering for single parents who can’t turn to outside help during quarantine.
Women are also more likely to be single parents than men. A recent report by Trust Radius revealed that women in tech are more likely to be laid-off or furloughed than men, and nearly 1.5x as likely to feel a greater childcare burden due to COVID-19.
14% of women are considering quitting their jobs because of the family demands the Coronavirus crisis created. Deciding to leave the workforce can have long-term financial ramifications for women who are already lagging behind in terms of pay, pension, and health insurance.
This is an opportunity for companies to adopt gender-inclusive and family-friendly workplace policies and practices, including flexible work arrangements that can disrupt gender stereotypes, change traditional narratives, and encourage more balanced share of care and family responsibilities.
Flexible benefits include reduced hours, a compressed work week, or a leave of absence with leeway in submission of assignments. Given the dramatic, fast-paced changes happening globally, it’s important to keep reassessing current priorities while reflecting sensitivity and empathy in all communications.
Offer and connect to relevant resources.
Isolation has also led to an alarming uptick in domestic violence.
Thousands of women already lack access to resources, hotlines, and shelters. Companies can play a key role in directing employees to services they need, including domestic violence hotlines as well as health and wellbeing contacts and referrals.
Address unconscious bias.
It’s important to continue vigilantly monitoring policies for biases that are weighted against women and can significantly impact their career progression.
In any crisis, it’s easy for such priorities to diminish; hence it’s crucial that every decision is informed by a structured due diligence process with continued accountability for diversity decisions.
Invest in women-focused employee resource groups and networks.
Many organizations do not invest sufficient time and money to staff networks that can be crucial in a crisis.
People feel more secure when they are part of affinity groups with members who share the same fears and challenges.
Involve men in the conversation.
Some organizations are using this opportunity to open up women’s leadership programs to include men, so men are more aware of the challenges their female counterparts face.
Male allies will play an integral role in sustaining equality efforts, so it’s advisable to include them in the conversation and secure their support. Men should also be encouraged to purposefully leverage their newfound domestic partnership at home.
Provide coaching, mentoring, and training programs.
Reports have highlighted how mental health will be impacted by this pandemic. It’s important for organizations to invest in internal or external coaches, mentors, and mental health experts who can help employees steer their way through uncertainty and anxiety. The latter can help employees confront their feelings, navigate through confusion, and overcome obstacles, limiting beliefs, and learned helplessness.
On top of the pressure and overwhelming nature of the current crisis, many women who are losing their jobs do not have the skills, nor the technology, to work from home or retrain for other employment.
Following outbreaks, women experience more irreconcilable work breaks than men do. Hence, it’s important to prioritize leadership and resilience trainings and corporate development programs that can empower women to reach the highest ranks in leadership.
Encourage and host virtual social time.
Leaders need to facilitate connections and foster team cohesion. Encourage teams to take time off to engage in self-care and relaxing activities during this stressful time.
Begin meetings with open-ended questions; allow people to vent and share their thoughts and feelings. It’s critical to nurture and strengthen team morale.
Group games provide downtime and support positive coping. Many companies share resource kits for surviving and thriving in these difficult times.
Support communities, NGOs, and government partnerships.
Organizations must support employers and trade unions representing female-dominated labor market sectors, as should women’s organizations and shelters.
Organizations can consider redirecting funding investments in women-owned businesses and focus on “gender lens investing” – investing in products and services that benefit and empower women socially and economically, including promoting education as a catalyst for female leadership.
Engaging women and girls at the community level through their networks and organizations is important to ensure a more inclusive response. Organizations may prefer to partner with governments and global health institutions to support recovery efforts and evaluate the impact of the outbreak by collecting meaningful data and exploring trends.
We have achieved significant progress in the fight toward equality, and we cannot afford to lose momentum. The public and private sector must make focused efforts to sustain this development and drive it forward.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
Hira Ali is the author of the renowned book: Her Way to the Top: A guide to smashing the glass ceiling which has received international awards and outstanding testimonials worldwide.
She is also an inspiring and well-recognised leadership expert and career coach who has impacted thousands of people from various industries and professions across the globe with her articles and interviews being featured in hundreds of media outlets including Forbes, Huff post, Entrepreneur, The Female Lead and many more. An Associate Certified Coach accredited by International Coach Federation and a professional member of the Association for Neuro Linguistic Programming, Hira is a recipient of the top 100 women Lift Effects awards and the prestigious highly commended women in media award sponsored by Microsoft.
Last year, Hira was featured as a role model in the book Girls Who Do You Want To Be alongside Arianna Huffington, Reshma Sujani, Claire Shipman, Sallie Krawcheck and other phenomenal world changers. She is very passionate about empowering women and ethnic minorities, closing the gender gap and is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion at workplace. Hira is the Chief Executive Officer of Advancing Your Potential, Managing Director of International Women Empowerment Events, Co-Founder of Career Excel and Co-Founder of The Grey Area. She is based in UK where she lives with her husband and son. You can follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Insta or Facebook