Gender Inclusive Workplace Responses to Covid – A global perspective

Written by Anju Rakesh & Athira Premarajan

Gendered impacts of Covid-19 are still making their rounds in India, while the second wave of the pandemic has hit the nation mercilessly. Uncertain future and anticipation to come out of the crisis have led institutions, organizations, and global stakeholders join hands to combat the current situation. Amidst all the chaos, small and big, but significant efforts from the national and global corporates can be marked remarkable and worth admiring at.

Amongst the numerous studies conducted for assessing the Covid impact, many reported gender-centered disruptions, which has further led to the decline of women’s participation in the mainstream workforce. The pandemic has been quoted as a gendered vulnerability, disproportionately affecting the women population. True to its core, data from various research studies have time and again proven the clear statistics of the increasing and continual decline of women from the workforce. The worst-hit sectors were the ones that had an over-representation of women, especially the service sector that includes hospitality and retail. According to the Oxfam India report titled, ‘The Inequality Virus’, 17 million job losses were recorded of women in April 2020, leading to a loss in GDP for India at 8%, roughly translating to $218 Billion!

Looking at the brighter side in this scenario, diversity and inclusion pursuits of organizations have shone a light on the importance of gender parity through their innovative and proactive initiatives. Across the globe, organizations pursued customized strategies to adapt to the intensity of the crisis, prioritizing gender parity initiatives. India Inc too was a proud advocate for the cause of making a significant social impact. Find the list of proactive initiatives taken by organizations across the globe for showing their solidarity towards gender responsiveness in response to the Covid impact on women and other vulnerable groups.

Measuring across six significant verticals, IFC (International Finance Corporation) in association with UN Women conducted a comprehensive research on the best practices by companies against Covid impact. The verticals are namely, Well-being and health, Flexibility and family-friendly policies, Equal access and use of digital platforms, Equal access to financial and non-financial services, Inclusive supply chain and support for women-led business, and, Addressing, preventing, and mitigating gender-based violence.  With numerous International organizations quoting their best practices in the report, it is a compendium of gender-responsive measures that aspiring organizations can follow.

AXA Group implemented stress prevention programs and developed ERGs (Employee Resource Groups), while Sodexo Columbia developed a training module for addressing the psychological and physical impact of the pandemic. Orange Moldova, a frontrunning telecommunications company introduced virtual yoga as part of their well-being program. Mindfulness, nutrition, yoga virtual pauses to manage stress, virtual family day, communication campaigns were the initiatives by Ferring Pharmaceuticals.

In providing family-friendly policies, IBM Argentina encouraged co-responsibility of home, chores, and care and promoted a pledge that asks employees to be respectful of other employees working on different timelines.  BSR’s training app launched amidst the pandemic HERessentials, trains women supply chain workers and managers to learn resilience and fortitude during a crisis. Offering over 2000 women business entrepreneurs’ capacity-building support, The State Bank of Mauritius (SBM Bank) emerged as a role model. On addressing violence against women, Unilever curated online domestic violence training modules that share safety measures and plans for the survivors.

Focusing the limelight on India Inc, Working Mother and Avtar Best Companies for Women in India reported the agile and rigorous efforts of companies in being gender-responsive amidst the crisis in action. Initiatives including installing bias-filters for HR practices, launching communication and training programs on crisis management, instituting virtual support and team building activities, proactive reach-out by grievance redressal units, and support for effective flexible working, all implemented on short notice, helped these companies secure a prominent position in the Top 10 and Top 100 Best Companies list.

As a piece of advice to the aspiring organizations in this journey, here is a list of family-friendly best practices listed by UN Women for fostering a welcoming and enabling environment for employees:

  1. Implement flexible work arrangements
  2. Support working parents with childcare options that are safe and appropriate in the context of COVID-19
  3. Prevent and address workplace risks by strengthening occupational safety and health measures
  4. Provide guidance and training on occupational safety and health measures and hygiene practices
  5. Encourage workers to seek appropriate medical care in cases of fever, cough, and difficulty breathing
  6. Support workers coping with stress and personal safety during the COVID-19 outbreak
  7. Support government social protection measures

The learning from the past must be harnessed to mitigate future struggles, which will also help to eradicate the possible destructions accompanying the crisis. This may be noted by organizations aiming for consistent and sustainable growth, that pre-emptive cure could be the best measure than management of the crisis post its recurrence.  Hopefully, the above-mentioned initiatives will pave the path and inspire the future champions advocating for the cause of gender inclusion! 

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