Has COVID-19 Come As a Blessing For the Working Women?
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Eckhart Tolle in his book, A New Earth, notes, “All life-forms need obstacles and challenges in order to evolve.” Can the ongoing pandemic just be the one for our generation? It can possibly be, at least at a personal level, for it has bought about a fundamental shift in one’s lifestyle. The rapidity of change and human adaptation can only be gauged from the following statement made by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” And most of you would agree with Nadella—whether it be about working from home, getting your kids to cope up with their online classes, or securing the next customer in your rather taxing entrepreneurial journey. Of all the demographics, one particularly interesting and enormously impacted one is the working women, and especially the working mothers. While COVID-19 has brought its share of hardships for this segment of the society and economy, it has also come as a blessing in disguise, and this article highlights a few of those.
There are three aspects of the ongoing pandemic that has the potential of benefiting the working women, or those who were working till about recently and would like to rebadge. Firstly, it’s to do with a growing sense of empathy in the male counterparts on what it takes to run a family. Secondly, the construct of working from home has significantly lowered the entry barrier for women to re-join the mainstream workforce without being pushed to make difficult trade-offs. Thirdly, the rapid digitization and pervasiveness of digital technology has opened up the long-tail of demand which can be addressed by the long-tail of supply, leading to a greater democratization of opportunities. Let me explain each element in detail.
When you were first forced to work from home, around the months of February and March 2020 what was it like? Frustrating is an understatement. There were seismic changes on multiple fronts—work, health, wellbeing, schooling, travel, shopping, vacations, hobbies, and most importantly personal and family life. Almost all of us took time to adjust to this new way of living, and several are still coping up to the extended reality. One particular upside of this disruption is that the male members of the family could appreciate what it is to be at home and attempt to work amid the numerous household chores which were conveniently outsourced, delegated, or divided, and which must be self-managed now. Even the working women felt the heat as there weren’t maids to fall back on, and a new set of skills must be picked up. This led to a heightened sense of empathy and creativity—to appreciate the task and to get it done through improvisation. The men could relate to the hardships women have to face and have learnt to more accountable, sensitive, and compassionate, and this benefits the entire family, but most importantly the women in the family.
As for the panacea of working from home, the gender differences are largely disappearing, for now educated and eager women don’t necessarily have to travel, commit upwards of eight hours a day for work, and make hard choices to fulfil their professional ambitions. Thanks to pervasive digitization, the entry barriers of rebadging into the mainstream workforce has come down significantly, and so has the inhibitions for first-time employees. The more sensible households have engineered a routine out of chaos and have come to a more equitable division of labour which was for most of the past largely around gender stereotypes rather than capabilities and ambitions. Organizations can now reach to a larger section of working-from-home women to meet their gender equality objectives and bring diversity in their workplace which was hitherto constrained by social and economic deficiencies.
Lastly, COVID-19 has given a serious push to entrepreneurship, as the already weakening notion of secure-employment is further getting questioned and people are looking at offering a greater predictability to their careers and returns to their talent. On this topic, a recent report from the World Economic Forum concludes, “What we see today is the potential for democratizing entrepreneurship and creating new entrepreneurial role models that people can more easily identify with.” There would no doubt be a Schumpeterian creative-destruction for the foreseeable future, but the crisis would certainly open up new avenues for the long tail of talent (read low volume niche suppliers) to meet the demand in the long-tail (read low volume specialized markets), and talented women get a new opening here. Look at what TikTok did to women sharing cooking recipes, fashion tips, homemaking suggestions, parenting guidance, exhibiting their art, their craft and talent, which couldn’t get a proper outlet in the traditional forms. Certainly, there would be a lot of noise in the system, but rapid chaos is always better than a slow decay, because at least there is change, and some of such change can be for good.
In summary, here’s a call for women to explore their talent, re-ignite their ambitions, be a bit more experimentative with the digital media, and make the most of the ongoing pandemic. To quote Eckhart Tolle, “The past has no power to stop you from being present now.” This is your time.