Gender Diverse Virtual Workforce: A new reality

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Globally, in 2019, less than half (47.7%) of all women participated in the labor force, a decrease from 50.9% in 1990. Structural barriers and cultural restrictions are two factors that contributed to this gender gap, and despite an increase in the number of women pursuing higher education globally, a gender gap in employment rates remains among highly educated women and men in some countries. Additionally, unpaid care-giving responsibilities which prevent paid employment opportunities, disproportionately fall on women. Globally, only 41 million (1.5%) men provide unpaid care on a full-time basis, compared to 606 million (21.7%) women, and mothers are less likely to be employed compared to fathers and women without children.

In light of this reality, it’s no secret that all industries have benefited from increased diversity in the workplace. And while significant changes have been implemented in the last decade to make the workforce more diverse, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed something more intriguing: 

  • The increased value of an  interdependent diverse workforce: all genders and from different generations
  • A review of household polarities: professional realities and personal realities are mixing together
  • A new reality with new fundamentals : that we would like to call the “being and doing” reality and not “being” versus “doing”

Ideas group (ig) took the initiative of hosting a webinar about the new reality of a gender diverse virtual workforce, led by facilitators who represent everything wholesome that ig believes in:  they are women, daughters, spouses, caregivers and professionals who are highly driven and passionate about their careers.  Since ig is all about performance, the webinar tackled the issue of guiding leaders to improve productivity and efficiency by helping women unlock their potential and find purpose. By empowering women, they will be inspired to give more because they want to, rather than feeling forced to do it.

This blog post transcribes the content of the webinar and provides some insights based on the real life experiences of the facilitators.

During the pandemic period, confinement has shed light on the contributions of women in the workplace and at home. Women are being more noticed and appreciated for their multiple roles and there is an increased level of empathy towards the unspoken load they usually carry in silence. This is mainly because this load is now being shared with the spouse and other family members, allowing them to live through this reality and experience it up close. 

The household in confinement is similar to an organization with interdependent stakeholders. Beyond gender bias, individuals in households are supporting each other and adopting all needed roles. This leads us to ask the question: what if making this a common practice across organizations could abolish unspoken biases that affect work policies and thus lead to a workplace that suits all genders?

Carine Ghandour, one of the ig facilitators, a wife, and a mother of two children, commented about how she is currently juggling between her personal and professional life at home during lock-down: “My high levels of energy and motivation have served me well in my career and in creating the drive for positive change, for leaders and teams” stated Carine. “I like to create new challenges for myself, to continuously stretch myself. I don’t think of it as something special, I think of it as a need in my life. I’m now learning several new things that put me way out of my comfort zones, never was proud of that before, but I’ll accept it as special.”

To answer the question of what has changed for her during the pandemic, the ig facilitator Sophie Tamer, who is also a wife and mother, stated: “This pandemic has left a profound impact on the whole world because this is something really new; something that our generation has never experienced before and it has changed the way we live, how we work, and how we deal with our loved ones. Both my husband and I have careers that require a lot of traveling: him as an architect in the construction field and me as an ig facilitator in the training world. We both have adopted this lifestyle since 2003 and we even managed to book flights and hotels together whenever we’re heading to the same destination so we can spend more time together. Now we are on pause, learning to live under the same roof for several months. I am a mother of three children and we all had a balanced system. Our lives changed in a blink of an eye: The professional pace slowed down, new responsibilities fell on my shoulders and a feeling of uncertainty increased.”

Some of the common challenges that were elaborated based on personal experiences include: 

  • Ongoing projects that were “business as usual” when nothing about the current circumstances is usual.
  • Adapting to the new reality of virtual work which requires a whole new set of design, skills and behaviors to get the engagement and impact needed.
  • Managing emotional energy at home during these times of uncertainty.
  • Being caregivers to children who have their own needs and interests
  • Managing the physical space in a manner than enhances productivity and efficiency.
  • Creating a new schedule and routine to use time wisely.

Tackling the above challenges requires several attributes that women have proven to possess more naturally, and that are very much needed today: 

  • Agility: Women normally have the ability to anticipate change, and initiate action, at home and at work. It’s easy to see parallels between being a mother and an agile leader. 
  • Challenging assumptions: Oftentimes, women see things from a different perspective. They don’t hesitate to peel layers beyond the obvious and to get to the root of the matter.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Our societies are shaped in a manner that puts women under constant pressure to work harder than men to prove their value to the organization which has equipped them with more self-awareness and the ability to solicit, integrate and learn from feedback.
  • Empathy: Emotionally, women are usually more attuned to what is going on. As a result, female leaders have the capacity to build trust and rapport with others. 
  • Collaboration and teamwork: women tend to be more consensus-building than men.

Carine gave an example of how she as a leader is dealing with those challenges as well. She explained that one of the main elements of leadership development, is how you’re leading yourself, and how you’re showing up. During challenging times like these, it’s essential to find a sense of purpose to connect to amidst all the negativity and the overload of information. This sense of purpose can be found by asking yourself: “What do I really want and need to practice self-care and get through this phase?” while keeping in mind that the answer does not have to fall under the category of “should” such as exercise, teaching the kids a new skill or learning a new skill. The answer has to be personalized; something that you genuinely care about. Carine for example found her purpose through volunteering to coach and support front-liners who were under distress. 

Sophie, on the other hand, highlighted the importance of staying attuned with the people you are living with to ensure that you are not dispersed and emotionally detached. She gave an example of how she managed her anxiety by openly and honestly communicating with her husband to avoid any hidden expectations that usually lead to frustration. She also spoke about how she addressed her children who are of different age and gender,  and who have different interests and personality types by listening to them and understanding the nuance of their different needs and, most importantly, not putting her personal preferences above her kids’ preferences.

This new reality has shown us that although on the surface we are living a shared experience, on an individual level, we are witnessing completely different realities. Prior to the pandemic, most employees were working from the office, and work-life balance was more easily accessible. Now that the majority are working from home, CEOs, managers, team-leaders, colleagues, and subordinates are all getting a sneak-peek into each other’s personal lives. Your team members are no longer only viewed as colleagues; they are wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, caregivers, tech-savvy, change-resistant, anxious, and resilient. They are trying their best to maintain what’s manageable of their work-life balance while confined in a limited physical space.

Employee engagement has always been an important element in an organization, however, recently, it is taking on an additional layer: companies are becoming an abstract reality and employees might not have the same level of commitment working remotely. Therefore, maintaining engagement and collective intelligence is key. There’s room to leverage employees as partners now; to keep them on the same boat. And it is in everyone’s interest to save that boat.

As leaders and decision makers are trying to find balance and take a step in the right direction, it’s time to start observing this new reality and following an empathetic approach in your decision making process. There are certain questions to be addressed:

  • Are you connecting with your people on a personal level, ensuring that they feel safe sharing their concerns, fears, and ideas with you? 
  • Do you have an internal support circle at your organization where employees can discuss and tackle their problems?
  • Are you following an individualized approach in your management style that is taking into consideration the additional roles of your employees at home?
  • Are you structuring new practices into upgraded policies and procedures, such as crisis management, diversity and inclusion, performance management, leave policies, employee benefits and others?

If you are interested in obtaining valid data about the performance of your organization on key Diversity and Inclusion elements, contact us to receive your free D&I assessment.

Below are some questions and answers that were discussed during our webinar.

1. Being an active member in my team, I agree with a lot of what you said today. My current challenge is to translate those initiatives to my top management. How can I do that efficiently?

One of the biggest challenges that we face as professionals is convincing someone else of something we strongly believe in. In order to get the best results, you have to scout for facts and link them to the impact on the team and on business performance. When you are presenting your idea, make sure to tap into what matters most to the top management. The best way to get a buy-in is to present it in a way that resonates.

2. Sometimes, as a team member, I feel like sharing my concerns or struggles will feel like a burden on others, especially on my team leader. How can I communicate how I feel without sounding too negative?

Here, the role of the team leader comes first. When he/she sets the right atmosphere of support, team members will feel comfortable enough to share their concerns. As a team member, it’s important to remember that we are all human and we all face obstacles. Sharing our concerns can actually feel like a burden lifted and can boost our energy. Whatever obstacles you are facing, even on a personal level, they are probably decreasing your productivity or your ability to feel engaged at work. So think of sharing these issues as a way of removing obstacles and increasing productivity for the benefit of the whole team. The end result is actually a positive one.

3. If I want to apply everything you talked about and my management is pushing me to get business results, how can I balance between getting business results and having a diverse workforce?

It’s important to remember that these two goals can go hand in hand, especially if you are trying to get some quick wins while also planning more on the long-term. Your workforce will be responsible for keeping your business alive and if they do not feel engaged or motivated to do so, your efforts will not be as fruitful. This is why addressing diversity related issues through individualized consideration will actually assist you in getting better business results

4. How can I as an HR Manager integrate the principles you spoke about in a structured way into the organization?

One big challenge for HR managers nowadays is to ensure that the teams are still connected and engaged while working remotely. To keep the workflow moving, HR professionals should address various areas, including: performance management, employee relations, and policies and procedures. Using virtual platforms can help you reach out to employees and provide the necessary support, and if you are not fully available to do so, creating internal support groups will help a lot. As for policies and procedures, amendments are highly recommended in order to integrate new practices in a structured way. 

Below is the link to the recording of our webinar:

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