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Supporting the workforce during a crisis can drive productivity, innovation and economic sustainability

News Stories /25 September 2020

Like many other countries around the globe, Indonesia is experiencing an economic crunch due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The restriction of travel and mass gatherings, as well as the lockdown of affected areas, to reduce the spread of the virus have disrupted commercial activity and business operations in the largest economy in South East Asia. Economic survival and recovery are key priorities.

With lessons from COVID-19 in mind and reshaping the future in a more sustainable way a common goal, stakeholders from the government, private sector and civic organisations gathered for the Sustainability Action for The Future Economy (SAFE) forum to discuss sustainable economic development problems and explore solutions to achieve a sustainable economy in Indonesia. This year’s forum, organised by Katadata, was held online from 25 to 28 August.

Maya Juwita, Executive Director of the Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (IBCWE)—a partner of Investing in Women (IW)—was one of the speakers for the session Economic Sustainability Pathway: Indonesian Women in the Workforce.

The session highlighted how recognising the roles,  needs and contributions of both women and men to the workforce can drive better results, innovation and higher productivity; and how advancing workplace gender equality (WGE) requires support not only from the private sector, but also from policy makers in the government.

Women are disproportionately affected

COVID-19’s disproportionate effect on women—more than men—is widely acknowledged.  Juwita’s presentation underscored how the disruption of economic activity has severely impacted women-dominated industries such as retail, services and tourism. Moreover, women are at greater risk of losing their jobs than men and over-represented in temporary or part-time employment.

Travel restrictions and lockdown measures have opened avenues for remote and flexible work, allowing employees to care more for their families at home. However, more women than men reported increased time spent on cleaning, preparing food and shopping.

“This crisis has highlighted the importance of flexible working, but it has also exacerbated women’s double burden in balancing family, domestic and paid work responsibilities,” Juwita said.

Lessons from COVID-19

Expounding on flexible work, Juwita said that nearly 80% of the employees surveyed by IBCWE in Indonesia claimed that they were equally or more productive during the crisis, despite the shift in work arrangements. Around 25% of men and 17% of women said that they were less productive, with anxiety as the main reason for the decrease in productivity.

Respondents also reported feeling that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental well-being, and nearly a quarter of respondents reported that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their physical well-being. Juwita cited financial worries as the most challenging issue during the pandemic for survey respondents, even trumping physical health, among other concerns.

What companies can do

Retaining trained and talented staff during a crisis is crucial for businesses to survive, recover and to sustain the economy. Juwita provided recommendations on how companies can support their employees, such as permanently adapting flexible work policies and childcare options; performance management, top talent identification and leadership development in light of domestic realities faced by all employees; providing assistance programs, mental health support, bearing in mind the potential longer-term impacts of this crisis on their staff; and addressing gender stereotypes and gender bias in the workplace that can result in job segregation and limited opportunities for women to reach leadership positions.

Juwita also presented the Gender Equality Results, Assessment, and Strategies (GEARS) tool, a resource developed to help companies understand gaps, opportunities and strengths of their current strategies in relation to WGE. The tool allows companies to collect and analyse WGE data and use the data to drive change in their organisations.

The GEARS tool was developed by Investing in Women and the Business Coalitions in IW’s four focus countries, in partnership with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. It is a step in an organisation’s WGE journey – a light touch assessment that provides insights that will inform the development of an effective WGE strategy. The analysis allows companies to reflect on their gender balance and employee movements across the organisation and to assess their policies and implementation against leading practice.


COVID-19 Impacts to Women's Economic Empowerment

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