17 November 2022 | News/Stories

Can digital workplaces lead to an ‘illusion of flexibility’?

Work-from-home arrangements almost became the new normal during COVID-19. But as companies transition back to working onsite, the option for remote work again tends to be seen to cater primarily to women, who are traditionally tasked to care for the family.

A recent panel discussion supported by Investing in Women challenged these views by interrogating the norm that assigns caregiving as women’s primary role and cautioning against the “illusion of flexibility” which can mask the multiple burdens on women.

The panel discussion titled “DigitALL Workplaces” was part of Digicon 2022, the biggest digital industry event in the Philippines organised by IMMAP.

It featured Anna Chua-Norbert, Chief Culture Officer at DDB Group and Paul John Peña, Lead for Strategy & Insights, Data & Analytics at McDonald’s Philippines, and was moderated by Julia Abad, Executive Director of the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment.

“The shift to digital, in theory, democratises work in several dimensions. [W]orkers can work from anywhere while fully integrating their work and care responsibilities. In a perfect world, anyone regardless of gender can compete for jobs and earn a competitive wage,” Mr Peña said.

But he added that family and work responsibilities are two distinct spheres that often crash, and workers struggle to balance both roles at home. This juggling act is often harder for women because of gender norms about their primary responsibilities.

“Social expectations in the Philippines still dictate that caring is a woman’s job and there is still the expectation for women to do care work and their job even in the shift to digital workspaces. However, oftentimes, women have had to choose one over the other,” Mr Peña explained.

This insight is supported by IW data, which suggests an increase in the time devoted to household and caring responsibilities during COVID-19. This is likely due to the closure of schools and childcare facilities and the need to care for sick relatives.

The increased burden of caring responsibilities has fallen disproportionately on women, who reported an additional three hours of caring and housework a day on average, compared with two hours extra for men.

Separately, in IW’s 2020 Social Norms, Attitudes and Practices Survey, half of the men surveyed believed that women are best looking after children. Men and women in the Philippines also increasingly think women are best looking after children and dependent adults.

“[COVID-19] has changed the way that we work, and I think it’s important that we change the way we think about work as well,” Ms Chua-Norbert said. She encouraged companies to think more about work-life balance to support their employees in this regard.

To address the tension between professional and domestic lives, Ms Chua-Norbert said that providing time management training and providing relevant resources and skills can be helpful.

Mr Peña agreed, adding that companies can also think about promoting the take up of flexible work arrangements among women and across their employees to “send a strong signal to employees that care work does not necessarily fall on the mother’s shoulders.”

To wrap up the panel, Ms Abad highlighted the suite of services that PBCWE offers to support companies in achieving their workplace gender equality targets. Among these services are a Flexible Working Arrangement Toolkit and other gender equality assessments and modules.

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