Women At Work In The Midst Of A Pandemic: Opportunities & Challenges
Updated: Jun 12
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all of our lives, perhaps in more ways than we may have the opportunity to assess at this time.
One of the most pressing questions during this time is focused on the rights of workers, and for us, the extent to which women’s rights in the workplace have been impacted.
Inequality in the workplace has always been apparent for women, however, the last few months have made it very clear just how pressing and urgent the fight for gender equality is: for the future of the global workforce, and for the integrity of our society.
Just last month, a United Nations Policy Brief reported that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated inequalities for women: "Limited gains made towards gender equality are at risk of being rolled back."
There are many ways in which the coronavirus has disproportionately impacted women in our society, including: domestic responsibilities falling on the mothers in heterosexual relationships, reported cases of domestic violence rising as a result of more exposure (after lockdown restrictions) to dangerous home environments.
In regards to childcare, an LSE report suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic could result in a positive distribution of domestic roles, although, without direct action and support this would be difficult: "Parental childcare roles are likely to be reversed in households where the mother works in a critical sector and the father is forced to stay at home due to social distancing measures. This may accelerate the evolution of gender norms towards more equitable roles."
Significantly, a UN Policy Brief reported that women "make up 70% of the health workforce and are more likely to be front-line health workers, especially nurses, midwives and community health workers. They are also the majority of health facility service staff - such as cleaners, laundry, and catering."
Likewise, Pharmafield reported that, "of the 1,216,719 staff members working in the NHS in September 2018, 935,772 were women (77% of the workforce). The proportion of doctors working in NHS hospitals who are women has grown each year for the last five years from 44% (47,250) in September 2013 to 45% (53,692) in September 2018." Therefore, women are also more likely to contract the virus.
Furthermore, "the closure of schools and nurseries has added education and childcare services to pre-existing home production needs, with a likely increase in pre-existing disparities between the childcare contributions of mothers and fathers" - an LSE report has concluded.
Here at One Loud Voice, we want to celebrate the amazing work that women are doing all over the world. However, we also want to bring awareness to the inequality that has become even more apparent during these difficult times.
We had the amazing opportunity to speak to women who are succeeding in the most creative ways during the pandemic: from pregnant women at work, amazing female entrepreneurs transforming their businesses to reach audiences online, and reinforcing the importance of mental wellbeing, and teachers who are doing their best to provide for their students. Check out what they had to say!
Christina Disler is the Founder (CEO) of Werklab and Editor in Chief at The Werk - a holistic wellness co-work space in Vancouver. She is passionate about disrupting our relationship with and approach to work!
Christina talks to us about how she moved her business online - making sure to keep her community connected and happy!
"Our belief at The Werk has always been that when you take care of yourself, you end up doing the right work for you. You have to help yourself create a space of reactivity and higher consciousness that will benefit your business.
And so, within 48 hours we moved our community online. With entrepreneurship you can’t always overthink it; you have to dive in. So we started online classes, free of charge, as it’s an imperative time to support others.
We can’t continue to work the way we have been. It’s not sustainable. We have such an old paradigm in how we work, despite the digital technology available to us.
Humanity’s resilience is our ability to adapt. Businesses are now having to pivot. We have to start thinking from a different space.
The way business has been done is no longer true, we now know you can’t run a business from a state of fear. You’re having to trust people to do their work."
Erika Treanor is the owner of ELT Dynamics Fitness Studio, and is an artist, body-worker & wellbeing specialist! She talks to us about being pregnant during a pandemic, and how balancing work life has presented its challenges!
"The combination of being pregnant, a mother of a toddler, a wife, and a sole trader for my own business, has been tough during this lockdown. For instance, there is not enough evidence to support pregnant mothers that we (baby and mother) will indeed be safe longterm if we contract the virus.
As a practitioner that works with clients/patients in-person and with physical adjustments, I cannot deem it safe to work in the manner I used to, even with social distancing guidelines applied, because there are just too many unknown health risk factors as a pregnant mother.
With regards to government support, the Self Employment Income Support Scheme was helpful but will only keep my business fluid for a limited time and I don’t know how this will impact my upcoming maternity leave and the following tax years."
As for returning to work pregnant in the studio, that doesn’t seem likely with my due date timeline and the projections of easing the lockdown provided by the government. I do have a vague forecasted idea of how this could effect my business and career in the long term if I continue managing it as is. Therefore, I know I have to continue to be creative with my passions, stay true to my needs and be as clever and business savvy as possible in order for there to be a resemblance of hope for my business growth when I return."
Natasha Hughes is a Year-2 School Teacher & Co-ordinator - she talks to us about the challenges of being a school teacher during lockdown, and the opportunities that have arisen because of it!
"A huge challenge has been the seismic shift from teaching in a classroom to having to change the whole way education is delivered in such a short space of time. One of our primary concerns has also been to support our families in as many ways as we possibly can and accommodate their different needs.
I do feel the opportunities have actually been endless if you look for them in the right places. As we had to adapt to online teaching and learn how to use the online platform within a week, my ICT skills have never been sharper!
Also, as we are teaching from home away from our students, the need for communication with the families has never been more important. I feel like I’ve been let in closer with each one of them and seen a different facet of my students that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I feel really privileged to be on this journey with them.
I would like to think that this has shown that learning comes in many ways, not just in the classroom. I have seen my students adapt, grow and show unparalleled kindness to their families. I think it’s shown that we have this need to connect with each other that can never be taken away."
Pippa Grayshon works for tech company Tradeshift, as part of the leadership team responsible for Network and Customer Marketing. She tells us about finding a new rhythm, juggling work and motherhood, during lockdown.
Tradeshift, from the Executive team right down to my own junior team, have all made allowances for, and are understanding of the WFH (working from home) with an energetic Toddler. At first, they wanted to meet my daughter during our online meetings, and there were a lot of calls as people settled into a new way of working, but we found a rhythm which included time away from the screen, taking calls whilst also walking (toddler backpack for the win!). I was lucky to have my partner around to switch up with, and the lockdown coincided with my babies interest in TV (for about 20 mins at a time) which was used when really needed to keep her entertained. But juggling work hours after bedtime, during nap times and around each other would not be sustainable. I couldn't be happier to now have a full time childminder, and so too is Sienna to get undivided thoughtful attention.
During lockdown, I've learnt that colleagues, partners and customers are understanding of what you are going through. In fact with a customer, in particular, it can open up a whole new dynamic to your relationship with them. The whole situation humanises you. I really missed the office, and Tradeshift are now trialling virtual offices (on separate ipads) which is an interesting development. They've also rolled out office-optional globally, which I am sure will help with flexibility around family. For me full-time child care is what will work for me, having set times when I know my focus is work and other times when I can switch off and my child/children have my undivided attention. Sienna has taught me a lot, including patience and when to prioritise her and how - "I'm sorry, I know I set this call up, but i'm going to have to move it as my daughter is trying to escape from the front door, so I need to take her out for a while!".
One Loud Voice are always looking for ways to make women feel heard, represented, supported, and validated, regardless of their career choice or personal life paths. So, we want to continue to give voice to the women in our society, who everyday fight their way through the confined structures placed upon them.
Now, we pose the question to you. What can we take away from this revealing moment in our history? How can we change behaviours and thought in order to make our society more accepting, inclusive, and diverse? Comment below!