Women in Power
AFRICAN WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE
The events of 2020 till date has turned workplaces upside down. Under the highly challenging circumstances of the Covid-19 crisis, many female employees are struggling to do their jobs. Many feel like they’re “always on” now that the boundaries between work and home have blurred. They’re worried about their family’s health and finances. Burnout is a real issue.
Despite these headwinds, women are rising to the moment as better leaders. Compared to men at the same levels, women leaders are stronger people managers and more active champions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yet this critical work is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies, and that has serious implications. Companies risk losing the very leaders they need right now, and it’s hard to imagine organizations navigating the pandemic and building inclusive workplaces if this work isn’t truly prioritized.
Women in the Workplace & Workplace Well-Being
A number of factors over the past few decades have resulted in women entering and flourishing in a variety of different professions. Despite the enormous progress women around the world have made in pursuing careers, there remain significant obstacles women confront in the workplace. The glass ceiling and occupational sexism reflect the restrictions on women as they try to enter and rise in the ranks of the workforce. While occupational sexism and the glass ceiling will be explored in the section ‘ Inequalities of work,” what follows is a discussion of barriers to equal participation in the workforce, including access to education and training, access to capital, network discrimination and other factors.
Access to Capital
Women’s access to occupations requiring capital outlays is also hindered by their unequal access (statistically) to capital; this affects individuals who want to pursue careers as entrepreneurs, farm owners and investors. Numerous micro-loan programs attempt to redress this imbalance, targeting women for loans or grants to establish start-up businesses or farms. For example, while research has shown that women cultivate more than half the world’s food, most of the work is family subsistence labor, with family property often legally owned by men in the family.
Part of the problem keeping women out of the highest paying, most prestigious positions is that they have historically not held these positions. As a result, recruiters for high-status jobs are predominantly white males and tend to hire similar people in their networks. Their networks are made up of mostly white males from the same socio-economic status, which helps perpetuate their over-representation in the best jobs.
Social and Structural Factors
Through a process known as “employee clustering,” employees tend to be grouped both spatially and socially with those of a similar status job. Women are no exception and tend to be grouped with other women making comparable amounts of money. They compare wages with women around them and believe their salaries are fair because they are average. Some women may be unaware of just how vast the inequality is.
The Road to progress
To retain the women most affected by the challenges of COVID-19, companies need to take steps to reduce the additional pressures they’re experiencing. Here are six key areas where companies should focus or expand their efforts.
Make work more sustainable
A sustainable pace of work is essential to helping mothers, senior-level women, and all employees facing burnout get through this crisis. To make this happen, leaders and managers need to look at productivity and performance expectations set before COVID-19 and ask if they’re still realistic. They may also need to reset goals, narrow project scopes, or keep the same goals and extend deadlines. Currently, only a small number of managers are doing this. Additionally, companies have found creative ways to give employees extra time off. For example, we’ve heard from companies that have offered “COVID-19 days” to give parents a chance to prepare for the new school year and from companies that close for a few Fridays each quarter to give everyone an opportunity to recharge.
Reset norms around flexibility
COVID-19 has made it much harder for employees to draw clear lines between work and home, and many employees feel like they are “always on.” Companies should look for ways to reestablish work-life boundaries. For many, this may require setting new work norms—for example, establishing set hours for meetings, putting policies in place for responding to emails outside typical business hours, and improving communication about work hours and availability within teams. Companies can also encourage employees to set their own boundaries and take full advantage of flexible work options. Even when these options are available, some employees worry there may be a stigma attached to using them. To mitigate this, leaders can assure employees that their performance will be measured based on results not when, where, or how many hours they work.
Take a close look at performance reviews
Performance reviews are an important part of running an effective organization and rewarding employees for their contributions. But given the shift to remote work and the heightened challenges employees are coping with in their personal lives, performance criteria set before COVID-19 may no longer be appropriate. Managers can relieve employees’ stress and refocus on key priorities by reassessing performance criteria set before the pandemic to make sure those criteria are still attainable. Bringing criteria into line with what employees can reasonably achieve may help to prevent burnout and anxiety and this may ultimately lead to better performance and higher productivity.
Take steps to minimize gender bias
The pandemic may be amplifying biases women have faced for years: higher performance standards, harsher judgment for mistakes, and penalties for being mothers and for taking advantage of flexible work options. These biases could show up in new ways during COVID-19: for example, when colleagues see young children playing in the background on video calls; when coworkers assume, consciously or unconsciously, that women are less committed to their jobs; or when managers are evaluating women in performance reviews. Given that managers and team members now have less visibility into their colleagues’ day-to-day work, they may be more likely to make assumptions about their performance, and this increases the chance of bias creeping in.
Provide Equal Opportunities
Like what every worker wants, women want fairness in the workplace- not just in pay, but providing them with equal opportunities to showcase their skills and allow them to make a difference.
If companies rise to the moment with bold action, they can protect hard-won gains in gender diversity and lay the foundation for a better workplace long after Covid-19 is behind us. And to African women: It is the drive to achieve more because it gets tough. Success is not for the faint-hearted. That drive has to be “110%”. You have to be clear on where you want to be and put in the hard work to get there.