Working Women and The Pandemic in Guyana

The usual way of life in Guyana has been greatly disrupted following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the latter half of the first quarter of 2020. The ‘new normal’ has changed how we socialise, our personal hygiene practices, travel, vacation (cue the cry emojis), and even how we work! Unsurprisingly, these necessary changes have been met with collective groans worldwide and even protests, especially from the frequent party and bar goers. However, a specific subgroup of our society has sustained the brunt of this pandemic — women (particularly, working women). 

Thanks to the norms still being perpetuated by the masses who subscribe to gender roles within the home, women are still doing the chores and the heavy lifting in childrearing even in homes with both parents. The Covid-19 restrictions have intensified these ‘dual responsibilities’ and blurred the already thin line in work/life balance. The result? Increased pressure and stress. 

In fact, many women now have more responsibility for household chores, childcare, and homeschooling. These trends further compound the negative productivity effects of rising workloads throughout the pandemic and may be a major cause of rising female unemployment globally: simply put, women are under real pressure and they are leaving or rather being forced out of their jobs. This is particularly true of those women whose duties just cannot be performed remotely. In Guyana, that accounts for a great proportion of our women who just happen to be the dominant demographic within the informal sector.

Moreover, the UN has reported a rise in violence against women during the pandemic which the World Bank terms the “shadow pandemic”. There are arguably many things that may account for this rise including the loss of financial independence that results from the loss of their source of income. 

Some women fear that the current dilemma may have implications for their long-term advancement in the workplace as they fall further behind their male counterparts who currently fill 53% of managerial offices in Guyana and earn about 2.3 times more annually. For these women, the glass ceiling may prove even more difficult to shatter following the pandemic! A phenomenon that can potentially affect the standard of living and quality of life enjoyed by our women and children in female-led single-parent households. The pandemic has essentially forced our society to take multiple steps backward in our gender parity and women’s economic empowerment efforts which can negatively affect business performance, local labour market conditions, and our economic growth trajectory. All reasons for decision-makers and policymakers to be on the alert and take swift action.

Can anything be done?

There are multiple trends, outside of work from home arrangements, gaining momentum in the workplace that may be useful for overcoming the challenges of women during this time. 

  1. Self-determined working arrangements 

Yes, no typo there! Some businesses are actually allowing their employees to have their pick — buffet style! This can have the effect of empowering employees through autonomy. Having some jurisdiction over the method and time they perform their tasks would improve employee satisfaction which naturally improves their productivity. 

  1. Empathy and Compassion 

As a manager or team member, simply empathising and showing compassion to the women in your organisation can soothe the mental and emotional injury inflicted by the challenges. Make it a norm at the start of every meeting or workday to check-in on the emotional state of these women; ask how they feel, what challenges they are having, and how you can help. Send them care packages or offer childcare or other necessary support during work hours. Now more than ever, team leaders are aiming to connect with female members on a personal level. 

  1. Four-day work week 

At the onset of the pandemic, a German Technology company switched to an entirely remote working environment. Initially, employees worked their normal work hours from the comfort (or maybe discomfort in some cases) of their homes but as the company started experiencing a rise in their online business activities, employees were under more and more pressure and productivity declined (a trend seen in many businesses). A decision was made to allow employees to sign off at lunch on Fridays to ‘ease into the weekend’ which saw an increase in productivity and client satisfaction. Eventually, they adopted a four-day work week! Similar alternatives such as six-hour workdays have also gained popularity and enjoyed much success around the world. 

While some of these solutions may seem out of the ordinary in Guyana’s corporate culture, the reality of the working woman, perhaps, even some of your business’s most valuable employees, is one of unimaginable hardship and is worth disturbing the status quo. 

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