Diversity of Thought Blog

How COVID-19 Can Potentially Speed-up Gender Equality Globally

“Hello!”  “How are you?”  “Are you coping okay?”  “Hanging in there?”  “Crazy times, eh!” 

These are some of the things I find myself calling out to familiar faces, as I take my kids for a scoot during our 1-hour outdoor time each day.  I find myself pausing, searching in the eyes of those I see (at a 1.5-meter distance) and really listening to their response.  I’m genuinely worried for everyone.  I know they are grieving, because I too live in a constant melancholy state.

 

We all heard about the coronavirus in early to mid-January.  We listened intently, spoke to our friends about it, watched some YouTube videos to see how it was being handled in China, shared a few COVID-19 memes on social media, talked hypothetically about it sweeping through Australia, etc.  We’re all guilty of having the “it can’t happen to us” mentality.  Then came news about its rapid growth in Iran, the number of reported cases in Europe spiked, the US reported its first death and announced travel restrictions, and for me it was when Italy and France went into lockdown that I really understood life as we know it was going to come to a complete halt.

 

I am not too proud to admit I had a complete meltdown two weeks ago (which already feels like 2 months ago).  I’m a mum of 2 young kids, I run my own business, In Its Place, providing home organising, decluttering and styling.  A business that has taken years to really get going but has allowed me to be present for my children.  (There were days my daughter sat in the corner of a client’s house with a bucket of toys, while I organised and styled!)  To help make ends meet, I also provide afterschool care and work as the Office Manager for, The 100% Project, a non-profit that focuses on gender equality in leadership roles, https://the100percentproject.com.au/.

 

When talk came of social distancing, I lost my afterschool care work, because the family I help stopped attending school.  Then the clients I had booked for In Its Place started to cancel.  Honestly, the idea of going backwards (losing business, missing out on earned money after just starting to feel like we were financially getting ahead, being home with my children again 24-7, not getting that time away to work and feel like myself, homeschooling and having my husband working from home while living in a small, 2-bedroom apartment) was too much to bare.  I had to breakdown, cry and have an emergency social distance acceptable meeting with my best friends, in order to come out the other side motivated, brave, confident and strong that not only could my family and I survive this time, but we are going to make it magical, memorable and my children will only ever remember these days fondly.

 

With my mind intact and inspired, I began to think how this pandemic was going to impact gender equality.  The 100% Project too is facing new challenges and have had to rethink our strategies for 2020 due to COVID-19, but we are hopeful some positive outcomes will come from the lifestyle changes we are being advised to follow.

 

  • CEO’s are being forced to let all employees, including those in senior leadership positions, work from home.  This is a great way to get employers thinking outside the box and demonstrate flexible working arrangements are possible and beneficial.

Since my husband started working from home about two weeks ago, he has managed to make budget ahead of schedule for the first time in a long time.  When I asked him how and why now, he said there are less interruptions at home and he has been able to focus on billing.

 

  • Now that most of society is being advised to work from home, there is greater need for household duties to be divided equally.  If there are two working parents within the household, then they can work together on creating new norms, especially if the children are no longer attending school. This is an excellent time to demonstrate to children that both parents are equal within the household.

In my house, I have taken on the responsibility of homeschooling.  I’m enjoying making lesson plans, teaching a letter and number of the day, decorating Easter eggs with site words, taking the kids to an imaginary library, creating a daily canteen for the kids to purchase snacks and learn about money transactions, coaching soccer, ballet or yoga.

Now that Dad works down the hall, he is home in time to play with the kids AND make dinner, which gives me time earlier in the day to work on The 100% Project.  Like now… I am writing to you at 5pm instead of 9pm!  I’m finding that having my husband home is allowing me to work more hours; which is not only good financially but important for me mentally.

 

  • Having employees work remotely, taking them out of their normal office setting, is a great way to neutralize “the playing field.”  Men and women have an opportunity to prove themselves equally and solely based on their work and ability to adapt within a changing world.

I am lucky to have a husband that values all the work I do for the family.  He also values his secretaries and office teammates.  He understands that for him to do his job, he needs the men and women around him contributing and helping to make his life easier and vice versa.

Now just because he is working from home, doesn’t mean I become his secretary too.  He is lucky to have his real secretary working remotely and accessible.  Unfortunately, it won’t be like this in all families.  Some power plays might happen between men who are used to working in the office with their teams, and women who normally have structures and systems (school, day care, a nanny, a cleaner, etc.) in their lives to help balance “everything.”  It might not be smooth sailing for some women who struggle to meet expectations at work and all the family responsibilities without much help.

One would hope, in these crazy times, men would realise the importance of stepping up vs. expecting women to work, take care of the kids, homeschool, complete housework and serve their coffee and lunch.

 

In closing, COVID-19 is a pandemic that applies equally to men and women, unlike many other constraints that often only impact women.  It is safe to say the coronavirus is gender-neutral, so let’s all step up equally and get through this trying time as one, balanced, united team.

 

Stay safe.  Stay healthy.  Stay home.

 

Danielle Ford, Office Manager of The 100% Project

(Picture credit to photographer and stay-at-home Dad Gary Bachelor)

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