Working women got caught up between household and workplace duties during the pandemic-induced WFH setup, which affected them professionally.

How the pandemic hampered the professional growth of women

Workplace inequalities between men and women have always existed. Although the gap has been shrinking over the years, COVID-19 seems to have turned things negatively. And as soon as the pandemic hit, unemployment numbers skyrocketed. 

Those who could keep their jobs soon found themselves adjusting to the new normal by working from home. While this was welcomed by many, women, in particular, had to face some challenges adjusting to the WFH environment, especially in a country like India.

Let us look at some ways in which this change in working style impacted women.

Childcare responsibilities

Even before the pandemic, working mothers were already stretched thin with workplace obligations and caregiving responsibilities. Childcare facilities have never been great in India, and with lockdowns and social distancing norms, they were no longer an option.

While one can argue that shutting down preschools and crèches would have caused stress to both parents equally, studies have found that working mothers took on more childcare responsibilities in contrast to fathers.

The responsibilities hampered women’s official duties, and they often ended up taking leave or even permanently leaving their jobs to focus on their families.

Related: A Working Woman's Guide To Maintaining Work-Life Balance

Household obligations

Deep-seated gender roles were exposed as the pandemic left people without domestic help. An unfair number of chores and other household obligations were automatically assigned to women.

As women shouldered the burden of household responsibilities, their work obligations took a hit. Women were forced to prioritise cooking and other chores over their work duties.

Almost 70% of women felt that managing these responsibilities came in the way of their career development, and they faced discrimination at work.

Returning to the workplace

Now that organisations are trying to go back to the physical mode of working, people in different situations look at the opportunity quite differently.

Some women have been waiting for physical offices to resume so that they are not unfairly burdened with household responsibilities. These women are embracing the return to office as it relieves them of many domestic obligations. But several others are stuck wondering whether they can resume work - or if they will have to give up on their careers.

Lack of childcare resources is a major roadblock here. Women who are unable to find (or afford) a reliable house help or childminder are forced to reconsider their options. As a result, many women have had to quit their jobs because they could not manage work and home duties.

Related: 6 Ways Full-Time Moms Can Beat The Stress To Maintain A Work-Life Balance

How employers can ease the transition

Companies should make a conscious effort to ensure that women can transition easily from a WFH setup to in-office work. Here are some steps they can take in this direction:

  • Show trust and empathy
    There is an increasing need for managers and other leaders within a company to encourage open and supportive conversations with their associates. Even employees will feel better if leaders pay attention to their concerns. Open dialogue will make the management more aware of the problems women face, and instil a sense of trust in the company.

  • Offer flexible working hours:
    Women often struggle to balance work and personal life, and flexible working hours can be a great solution to this concern. Flexible working doesn’t only mean working remotely; it includes working for a reasonable number of hours and days that suit the employee and give them enough time to unwind.

  • Focus on diversity and inclusion
    Even before the pandemic, there was an apparent disparity between the options offered to women and men. Although most organisations have diversity and inclusion policies, their implementation is not always concrete.

If a company wants to ease women into the work environment, they must ensure no gender bias while offering roles and responsibilities, even if a woman is managing household responsibilities while working.

Often, rewards and promotions also reflect gender bias. Inclusivity should not simply be restricted to the hiring process but needs to be followed at all stages.

Related: The Best Mom Or The Best Employee? Why Not both?

Last words

While there is no doubt that the pandemic affected everyone in different ways, it is safe to say that women had to face more consequences than men. Unfortunately, a major part of Indian society continues to believe in traditional gender roles.

Such beliefs are biased in favour of men, so women, unfortunately, have to bear the burden of caregiving, domestic chores, and cooking. Consequently, their professional lives tend to be put on the back burner.

Although offices are now resuming work physically, women still struggle to find the ideal work-life balance as familial obligations tie them down. In such a scenario, the right organisational incentives can help women return to work and thrive.