IWD 2022: Designing a stronger post-pandemic workplace for women

It may be years before we come to terms with the impact of the pandemic on our society and our workplaces, but one thing is for sure: While we are still learning to navigate the pandemic, we have each had to adapt our daily lives to respond to it. Our lifestyles have also undergone a sea change. We now live in a more hybrid environment, a more cautiously optimistic space ? where the threat of new variants, emerging anytime, still looms over the world. Amid the worst crisis that humanity has faced in the longest time, workplaces have survived by swiftly adapting to the ?new? normal. Some serious effort has been put in to ensure a balance between the safety and productivity of the workforce in the most uncertain of times. The flexibility and safety of the employees have guided us to the hybrid working model. While everyone has had to live through the blurring lines between personal and professional tasks during their remote workdays, a cohort of employees that have faced a whirlwind of responsibilities is working moms.

Already accustomed to juggling work and domestic responsibilities in the pre-pandemic world, women IT leaders have had it quite tough during the pandemic. For instance, according to a 2020 LinkedIn survey, working from home has proved to be tough for working mothers in India. Findings show that 46% of working mothers are working till late to make up for work, and 42% are unable to focus on work with their children at home.

In 2022, as companies chart out a plan for bringing employees back to offices, it is a great opportunity for them to reset provisions for working women. The aim should be to help them ease into a post-pandemic workplace – be it remote or in the office.

How companies can respond

Companies can begin by resetting norms for flexibility for working mothers across levels. For those with newborns and toddlers, provisions such as extended maternity leave and reduced work hours can prove to be effective. For working moms with children below five years of age, child support at work in the form of daycare can help ease the burden as they won?t need to rush home or continuously juggle between work and kids if working from home.

An important aspect of managing this return after an interval is to remove bias in people processes. Breaking the bias against women holding certain jobs is crucial to preparing companies for the future of work, which besides digitalization, demands a more diverse and inclusive environment than the one that exists.

Therein lies another essential component of how companies can respond to working moms. The scope of empathy must be expanded by enabling avenues for career enhancement. For instance, many working mothers are returning to offices with an eagerness to explore newer work opportunities.In this case, a program for working mothers that take into consideration their need for upskilling to prepare them for the jobs they want becomes necessary. It will also help instill a sense that the company is going beyond rendering support to their personal lives but also hone their professional scope.

Mental well-being and wellness at the workplace

Easing back into the physical workplace is not just about bringing working moms into the office. Their mental well-being should also be a priority. Focusing on both their physical as well as mental health is vital for bringing about all-around well-being. Besides offering counseling support to whoever needs it, companies should put in place strong, flexible work hours and remote work policies, as it will give them the confidence to have a work-life balance.

Easing it to harness their true potential 

The 21st-century workplace is an equal space where talent is gender agnostic. It can only be judged based on the merit that a person has brought or can bring to the table.

Thankfully, today, more and more companies are recognizing the true untapped potential working moms bring to the business. In another LinkedIn survey conducted in 2019-2020, 48% of Indian companies formed special initiatives (returnee programs for women in India) to bring women back into the workforce.These numbers are just the beginning of a trend that is here to stay on the back of the pandemic-led transformation.  

It is true that the new normal has given rise to new models of working that allow flexibility for working mothers. If anything, they offer a first-of-its-kind chance to ease them into the workforce, with a firm hand on harnessing their true potential in the long run.

The author is MD, Mashreq Bangalore

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