Anita (name changed), who is in a leadership position in an FMCG company, celebrated a very special Mothers Day. She was woken up with the aroma of coffee in her bedroom and led with a blindfold to the dining table where her favourite breakfast cooked by her two children, aged 11 and four, was served with surreptitious support from her spouse. This years Mothers Day was special to Anita in many more ways she found her home far more welcoming, relaxing. This is her ninth week working from home, and she raises a silent thanks to an unlikely champion of remote working the COVID-19 pandemic.
And yet, for all the Anitas in India to celebrate this integration of work and life, a lot more has to be done. The silver lining that the novel coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown brought about is a definitive argument in support of flexibility as a tool to enhance womens workforce participation. How exactly does this happen?
In the World Economic Forums Global Gender Gap Index (which measures gaps that exist in economic participation of women), India slipped to the 112th place this year, simply because over 70 lakh Indian women have dropped out of work. In every family, there is at least one member who is not earning to potential, simply because it is not sustainable. And it is imperative that to drive economic growth and sustainability, especially in a post-COVID world, womens workforce participation is focused on. And every single Indian woman professional counts.
Guilt and regret are some of the common ailments that plague the working woman. The constant conflict over allotment of time for work and life is a war of attrition for them. It is here that flexibility transforms into the veritable oxygen for their careers. Flexible working conditions enable working women to juggle childcare, work and familial commitments and also allows them those extra few hours for essential tasks. With less commute time, women stand to gain a few more hours in the day for them to apportion between their personal and work-related tasks.
The Wall Street Journal places Indias gender chore gap (the difference between time spent by a man and a woman on household chores) at 333 minutes among the highest in the world. During a pandemic, when both the partners are working from home, with no domestic help, it is claimed that many men are emerging as strong allies to their partners in domestic chores. If such a habit becomes ingrained, we will see a spike in womens workforce participation.
The pandemic-induced remote working scenario has taught the corporate world that seamless work-life integration is possible not only for women but for male professionals as well. Companies were weary of allowing flexibility or remote working, fearing data infringement. Given todays context, with effective and efficient work-from-home solutions available, organisations will feel secure in promoting flexibility for all.
The pandemic has inadvertently addressed some of the unconscious biases that exist in the industry especially at the hiring table. The overwhelming thought among hiring managers that women will quit post marriage or at the altar of motherhood will be reduced considerably with a crucial enabler in the
form of work from home. Even as India Inc. adds more diversity and inclusion initiatives such as increased maternity leave, mandatory paternity leave and mentoring, the right to, and choice of, work for women depends greatly on organisations continuing the practice of flexible working. If the learning from these times can be carried forward to business in post-COVID times, it will not only help engage a larger segment of women in the workforce, it will also result in great innovation and emergence of diverse perspectives key to handle disruptions, volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the post-COVID era.
And Anita will continue to celebrate many more Mothers Day, without guilt and regret.