Time For A Reset: What The COVID-19 Crisis Might Mean For Gender Equality

Let's resolve to do what we can to ensure that our "next normal" is far better than the previous one.

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By Marian Salzman


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We know the COVID-19 pandemic will change our lives. For some -those who have lost loved ones, the millions whose employment has been disrupted- it has been devastating. For others, this major disruption will lead to changes in behavior, and perhaps a greater sense of vulnerability.

Yet, despite its many negative impacts, I wonder whether this crisis might serve as a sort of reset. The shutdown has forced us to pause, offering a chance to rethink, recalibrate, and reframe. We have seen kindness triumph over hate, science and reason cut through partisan rhetoric, and a resurgence in compassion and community. Many leaders around the world have emerged as strong, empathetic, and kind, stepping up and coping with the new normal. They are demonstrating how these global crises might help shepherd in an era marked by what I call the new 4 C's: compassion, camaraderie, civility, community.

In this context, women have been at the forefront in leading the fight against COVID-19. Women heads of state –be it in New Zealand, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Taiwan, and other places– have been celebrated for being steady and strong in the face of difficult issues. As health professionals, scientists, frontline responders, caregivers, or volunteers, women have made valuable contributions to defeating this pandemic all over the world. There is no guarantee that a woman will be a better leader, but I would like one after-effect of these times to be a greater willingness to promote women and minorities in power.

At Philip Morris International (PMI), we believe that gender equity begins with the basics, and for us, that means equal pay. I take great pride in the fact that we were the first multinational to receive global EQUAL-SALARY certification last year, meaning that women are paid equally to men for the same work in every market where we operate.

Related: Embracing Gender Diversity In Entrepreneurship Across The Middle East

Like a growing number of businesses, PMI recognizes that a diverse and inclusive organization instills strength and contributes to the ability to innovate. Our efforts have been recognized by the Top Employers Institute, the global authority on recognizing excellence in people practices. For five years running, PMI Middle East has been awarded the certifications of Top Employer UAE and Top Employer to Middle East. We have continuously strived to create an inspiring, diverse and inclusive working environment for our 145 employees in the UAE. These recognitions testify to PMI's status as a rewarding place to work and our daily pursuit to be a better employer.

Equality must be recognized by all as a sacred value toward women, minorities, and everyone, no matter our differences. It's my hope that the experience of heeding the collective calls to "stay home and keep positive" will result in a greater appreciation toward one another post-pandemic. We will remember the healthcare workers, of course, but also all the essential workers who helped keep our pantries stocked and our infrastructures running. Today we are all "seeing" each other in new ways- seeing human faces rather than just the "cashier" or the "delivery driver." Business leaders have had a glimpse (via videoconferencing) into their employees' personal worlds, offering a broader view of who they are outside the workplace. I am hopeful that these insights will not be forgotten.

I think we can also expect consumers to exert even more pressure on companies and brands to be purpose-driven, diverse, gender equitable. Don't be surprised if, post-pandemic, consumers reassess their loyalties based on how brands have conducted themselves. Most of us have been paying attention to how companies have treated their workers and customers during the pandemic and the recent protests, and I expect that to influence brand fortunes going forward.

There are signs of a tectonic shift in society. I am hopeful that we will see a tempering of the combative exchanges that have been so prevalent in the digital age. I am hopeful that employers will now operate and set policies with a heightened awareness of the day-to-day pressures facing workers. And I am hopeful, too, that the leadership displayed by women during this crisis will begin to chip away at the gender bias that has been entrenched within companies and society for so long.

Let's resolve to do what we can to ensure that our "next normal" is far better than the previous one.

Related: Inclusivity Matters: Speeding Up Gender Diversity (And Breaking Glass Ceilings) For Female Board Members In The GCC

Marian Salzman

Senior Vice President, Global Communications, Philip Morris International

Marian Salzman is Senior Vice President, Global Communications at Philip Morris International. Marian leads Global Communications at Philip Morris International as it embarks on its transformation to a smoke-free future. Named one of the world’s top five trendspotters (her most enduring contribution: popularizing “metrosexual” for brand marketing), Marian is one of the most-awarded female public relations executives in the world. She has been listed in PRWeek’s Global Power Book, was named a PR News Top Woman in PR and inducted into the 2017 PRWeek Hall of Femme.


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