As already put in series 1, working from home has a bittersweet dynamic especially for the white collar employee. At first, it was fun working from home. But once it became apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t a short term thing, we have grown tired of the home/work routine.
This week we take a look at the gender aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. What is in it for the white-collar employee working from home? Noticeably, certain gender stereotypes and habits have been reinforced. But we could also use the status quo to bring about positive change among the sexes. We shall at the same time delve into the workplace innovation options, post-pandemic.
We at the Effectiveness lab wish that the world doesn’t miss this one in a lifetime opportunity to learn from the pandemic and usher in change that was impossible to think about less than 24 months ago.
There is raison d’etre for change on matters gender and others at the individual, family and nation-state level. We have discussed these severally at the Effectiveness lab.
Unique window to address gender complexities – fallacy?
Gender first, and as expected – the reinforcement of the burden on the woman. Because a woman works at home 24/7, with the husband next to her, doesn’t necessarily translate into less work; or sharing the burden with the man who is now also at home 24/7.
Sadly, in most of our homes, at least for the Nakabugu folk, it’s business as usual with the professional woman carrying the burden of domestic work mostly alone. Only this time, she can do all work in one place – home. We aren’t sure if the latter is a blessing or not – as one could say, not having to do the commute saves on time wasted on the road.
But for the woman, the burden of work hasn’t changed; as a matter of fact it may have become worse. The issue, therefore, isn’t the time available to do what the women have to do but the support they need to take away some of the load. The latter is the first misnomer of the COVID-19 pandemic and its relief to the professional woman at home.
Second misnomer – that a man, in the same space as a woman, and 24/7 at that, has more free time (his commute saved, etc.) and will step in and support the woman with home chores. Specifically: take away work from the wife and have him do it – why not? It’s better than idling in the house. Well – these things aren’t as logical as the ideal school-of-thought would have it.
The issue is not having the time to do chores at home, but what is supposed to be done by the man vs the woman. In many households, there is a pre-determined order of work. Whether the other home-buddy has more time on them isn’t the determining variable re.: picking up a task or not’.
What work a man or woman does is the determination of the African ‘god’: it’s a ‘god’ given thing to do certain jobs or not. And remember, ‘god’ in the Nakabugu village setting can be: physical and human, man’s mental creation, an un-questioned perception, or anything earthly, including the male himself. Culture and societal norms outweigh and completely suffocate logic and common sense.
So, may it be that COVID-19 has condemned the professional woman to more misery? Well, it looks like. Especially when you ask the question: ‘why do we expect that working 24/7, in an environment called ‘home’ that has time immemorial seen enduring suffering of the woman, will change her fortunes for the better?’ Did we miss the basic principles of change management? Culture givens? While this is beyond the scope of this blog, may it be that it’s the women that are longing the most to return to the traditional workspace?
Changing the men?
Now, for for the men, powerful as my ilk from Nakabugu is, as we oppress and sit idle under the guise ‘chief family visionary’ that only exercises the brain, are served all the pork in the village, we will continue to die early. How can we not? We live a sedentary life; we have, during this COVID-19 pandemic, mostly slept, sat on a chair in the study and zoomed/teamed away accumulating fat and weight in the process; we consequently have higher cholesterol and likely weaker hearts; the best we may have gotten for a bit of rigorous exercise is sex – right? No wonder we will continue to die early. At least, we can authoritatively talk to the high NCD incidence and ensuing death amongst the Nakabugu men.
Men, especially our Nakabugu ilk – there is opportunity gaping at us here. Take on household chores at home – it’s good for your health as you exercise on the go – both physical and mental. Take out the bin, get the mop and wipe the house floor, clean the dishes. Look at things via a new lens – start by picking up a certain percentage of your wife’s home chores.
Men – stoop low, even as you and we acknowledge an ingrained but farcical fact: you are the inviolable pedigree of the East Africa male ancestor. Please accept that you need help adjusting and taking the changed status of ‘co-worker’ in the household. You and we know that you don’t want your bar/weed/gym/work friends to know you have ‘buckled’; so let it be a secret between you and your wife, till such a time that you’re comfortable talking about the ‘new pedigree’ man to the outsiders.
Ladies – this is a complex change-management jigsaw, and it should be managed as such. If you play with the brains of these seemingly inviolable but very brittle souls – apply the same skill, only this time, in a different arena. It’s the same toolbox and tools. Should there be some changed souls, however few, we are confident of the change-movement gaining momentum and positively impacting generations.
Change in the city
And finally – for the government, especially at City and regional level, shall we return to business as usual post COVID-19 pandemic? The commute Monday to Friday, work 8:00 to 5:00 pm, only to return home awaiting the same routine the week next. Shall you help force change the way we work?
We are thinking City authorities looking at options to decongest cities, education planners changing the need for physical bodies at school every working day, etc. What about considering bye-laws for companies and ask companies to consider virtual work for employees a few days per week. Target those with vehicles and levy a car tax to access the CBD if accessing more than three times a week (3 days free and two penalised via a punitive tax). Use the latter to create demand for a public transport system, but ensure you invest in the same, etc.
Why don’t we abandon our COVID-19 pandemic monologues at that 👆🏿?