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Coronavirus: Research indicates women in the workforce hit hard by COVID-19

Click to play video 'Viral tweet highlights challenges facing women in the workforce due to COVID-19' Viral tweet highlights challenges facing women in the workforce due to COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: A viral tweet has sparked a new conversation about the struggles women in the workforce have been dealing with because of COVID-19. Research shows many are trying to juggle home life but fear their performance at work is not good enough. Katherine Ward reports. – Jan 18, 2021

A tweet from a Siemens software manager in Saskatoon has gone viral, after he said he would not accept an employee’s request to scale back her workload by 20 per cent.

The request came because the staff member told her boss she didn’t feel as though she was able to juggle her workload and meet her family needs, saying the pandemic was making it difficult to maintain her former work/life balance.

Her manager, Aaron Genest, had a simple response: “I told her no,” Genest said with a straight face.

The response was a bit tongue-in-cheek, and the viral tweet detailing the scenario caught many people off-guard. However, if the reader goes through his thread, Genest’s motivation becomes more clear.

Read more: Childcare, flex work are key for women to recover from pandemic career hits: report

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As Genest explained to Global News, he simply wanted to find another solution where the employee could maintain her full salary.

“It wasn’t really a no to 80-per cent time, it was a no to 80-per cent pay,” Genest said.  “She was hoping to take a morning off, or a full day off at the beginning of the week, to get the kids oriented, and a couple hours at the end of the week whatever lessons they were doing.”

Between the two of them, a solution was forged. The employee would block off time for her kids and family just as if she was booking an appointment with a customer. Genest said for his company it is not unusual to have this approach, but he does recognize for some people this is not the case.

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Managing work, family, and everything else without outside help is a tall order under the best circumstances. But research indicates COVID-19 has made it even more challenging.

A recent study from McKinsey & Company looked at how the pandemic affected women in the workforce throughout 2020. It found that mothers were more than twice as likely as fathers to worry that their performance is being judged negatively because of care giving responsibilities.

Seventy-six per cent of mothers with children under age the age of 10 say childcare is one of their top three challenges during COVID-19, compared to 54 per cent of fathers.

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Read more: One-third of working moms mulled quitting their jobs due to COVID-19: survey

Olivia Riddell is president and international director of Music for Young Children, a music education program. The company has teachers all around the world, most of them women. Riddell said she hears about these struggles all the time.

“What I hear is that women have been giving up their careers to ensure that there is some level of stability within their family,” Riddell said.

Vanessa Glasser works as a litigator. She says doing her work virtually has cut down on wasted time and made it possible to be with her family more.

“It’s nice to know that we have the option to attend court online, do client conferences online and things that would typically eat up a lot of time in a board room,” Glasser said.

“Online has been a good change.”

Read more: Women-owned businesses hardest hit during coronavirus pandemic, study finds

Many executives said they hope this conversation around supporting women in the workforce continues, even after the virus is gone. Many of them cite the simple fact that nature of work has changed, as has workflow and companies need to adapt.

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“When we lose women as role models in jobs that are high quality, high paying, and highly visible, we lose a generation of people who can take those jobs,” Genest said.

Riddell said the most important thing someone leading a team can do is to create a place for open conversation.

“Managers need to spend some time acknowledging and actually actively listening to what their employees need, and sometimes their employees don’t need money they need time,” Riddell said.

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