TODAY, our company had Sen. Risa Hontiveros as guest speaker for a women’s leadership forum in our organization. Engaging as always, the senator talked about the various issues confronting women in the workplace, and how they can deal with the challenges in advancing their careers.
Which brings me to the subject we had been talking about for the last two issues of our piece — what does the post-pandemic business environment look like? And after hearing the senator, I got to thinking — how might this environment affect gender-related issues in the workplace.
I think a key barrier to female advancement, at least in the pre-pandemic normal, has been one of physical mobility. Especially in the child-bearing years, a lot of women have to take a break in their careers to take care of the family. Oftentimes, these gaps result in them being passed up for promotions by their male colleagues, and also those of their unmarried counterparts.
This is an acknowledged reality for barriers to career mobility for women, and yet it has not always been easy to address. But perhaps the post-pandemic environment may provide an answer that has not been as evident prior to this long period of hibernation that has been the default way of working for a year now.
What most organizations have realized is that extended periods of working away from the office is not only possible, it is also advantageous in a number of situations. For instance, it adds to productive time by taking away the hours that employees spend commuting to and from the workplace. In Metro Manila and the other metropolitan centers, this could easily be at least an hour each way.
For many organizations, the flexible work arrangement has become a reality, where employees can spend part of the week working from home, and part of the week working from the office. While spending a year away from the workplace, most organizations have learned new working models to cope with extended periods spent working from home, in most cases being more rather than less favorable both to the organization and to the employee.
This can probably be part of the answer for addressing the career mobility challenges of women in the workplace. For instance, a flexible arrangement can be made for women taking time off to raise their children, allowing them to do both at the same time. Of course, this must not be at the expense of family duties, but surely with thoughtful planning, this is something that should be workable.
More than this being a solution for women, this can also be something that benefits their partners. Having partners being able to work from home also means that women may be able to spend more time for work, and may thus be able to advance their careers better even if they also happen to be raising children at the same time.
It’s not all going to be plain sailing for women after this, mind you. There are jobs and there are roles more suited to this type of work arrangement than others. And not all organizations would be able to offer this type of accommodation to their employees, for a host of reasons.
And yet, I think there is good reason to be optimistic. After all, if women succeed, the entire organization succeeds. A workforce that is able to achieve productivity while at the same time giving opportunity to its female workers to pursue their careers on a more level playing field with their male counterparts can only result in a win-win situation that will be more beneficial to organizations in the long run.