26 March 2021 | News/Stories, Videos

Leading the conversation on gender equality in the time of COVID-19

Accenture in the Philippines, a founding member of the Philippine Business Coalition on Women’s Empowerment (PBCWE), celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021 with a free virtual Equality Dialogue titled Rising to the Challenge, Leading the Change.” The conversation covered how the coronavirus pandemic has affected women, the role of companies in establishing workplace gender equality, and how to beat the odds to make a lasting impact.

Given that COVID-19 has changed the way we work and live, the panellists shared personal stories and insights on how to improve working conditions so that both women and men can achieve their full potential.

Dr. Joann Diray-Arce, a research fellow in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the Infectious Diseases Division at Boston Children’s Hospital, spoke of the difficulties she experienced in balancing a mother’s duties while making groundbreaking research in precision vaccines over the past year. She advocated for correcting gender disparities in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, starting with providing funding support for female career scientists and strengthening their mentorship and support networks. “We must provide opportunities for growth for women, in particular for women in research,” she said, citing a study noting that women researchers have been publishing less during the pandemic.

Dr. Elisse Nicole B. Catalan, Director for Public Health at Simplyshare Foundation, Inc. and Southeast Asia Operations Division Manager at Parkway Pantai Limited, spoke of the sense of loss and isolation felt by many individuals due to the prolonged health crisis. It is important, she said, to reach out and acknowledge the healthcare workforce in all its diversity. Among healthcare professionals, those who have a high capacity for empathy are prone to burnout. This is especially true of women already burdened with dual roles at work and at home, and worried over high risk of infection due to lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE) fitted for women. Organisations must build structures that support gender equality, ensure women’s concerns are addressed, and provide “tangible interventions.” “The role of organisations is very important—you have to have those platforms ready.” She also noted that while 70% of the global health workforce are women, only 30% of leadership positions in medicine and science are held by women.

Ma. Aurora “Boots” D. Geotina-Garcia, Co-Chair of PBCWE and Chair of Philippine Women’s Network (PhilWEN), agreed that the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities, and stressed that the responsibility lies with the companies to commit to and practice gender-equal policies. She cited examples of proactive companies who made gender-responsive changes during the pandemic: putting up hotlines where employees can call and report domestic violence incidents, expanding health and wellness insurance benefits to include psychiatric/psychological consultations, scheduling meetings around domestic duties in consideration of parents working from home and, in one instance, a CEO calling up every single employee to ask how they were doing. “Leaders have to adopt a different way of looking at work.” For their part, PBCWE member-companies assess their performance—even getting certified as gender-equal workplaces—and utilise available tools such as flexible working arrangements. PBCWE would like to recruit more members and to influence all large Philippine businesses and their suppliers to become better employers of women. “Lead from the top. Leaders have to walk the talk.”

George Son Keng Po, Managing Director for Technology at Accenture Philippines, urged men to be part of the solution by adopting a “newer, better and different” perspective: “Men should self-educate and take the time to understand the [gender] issues that are out there.” Leaders must especially recognise that crisis solutions could take a different set of skills and perspectives and should tap into the broader talent pool, especially women. The “war for talent” will be won by inclusive, diverse and resultantly more innovative and competitive companies. “This is a total system reboot…and a huge opportunity in front of us to really find out what works,” he said.

2021 is the 17th year that Accenture has celebrated IWD, this time with the theme “Accelerating Gender Equality for All.” Accenture Research shows that due to the pandemic, gender equality will be delayed by 51 years—“a setback we cannot afford” declared Lito Tayag, Country Managing Director at Accenture Philippines. He encouraged more companies to embed gender equality as part of the entire workplace culture—from leadership modeling, to policymaking, to ethical work practices—and a strong sense of allyship at all organisational levels. “We need to work together in rising to the challenge and leading the change.”

Watch the complete video recording.

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