Return to “Normalcy” in the Workplace Post COVID-19
By Sahar Rajput
With the COVID-19 Pandemic descending, companies are asking their employees to return to the workspace in-person. This can be challenging for many after the year we have had, but it is particularly difficult for women. One of the largest reasons is having to find appropriate and affordable childcare. In March of 2021, South Carolina Governor, Henry McCaster, had ordered non-essential state employees to return to work with little to no notice. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, state employees started notifying the non-profit that they were unable to find safe childcare, or it was too late to enroll their children into school. The ACLU filed a claim with the “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asking the agency to investigate the discriminatory effects of South Carolina’s return mandate” (Sherwin, 2021).
The ACLU stance stated the issue was not returning to work, but the inability to allow women time to form an appropriate plan as well as provide accommodations. Without appropriate support, we could see a new wave of women being disproportionately pushed out of the workforce. The Pew Research Center shows that women more than men accommodate their careers for their family life. For example, about 48% of women reduce their hours at work compared to 28% of men, while 39% of women take significant time off work compared to 24% of men to take care of their children (Parker, 2015).
Some women, especially women of color, just are not ready for the return to the workspace. They are not ready for the microaggressions, having to hide cultural elements and having to code switch. Courtney McCluney, a new assistant professor at Cornell University’s ILR school stated, “This was the first year that I haven’t had my hair commented on and touched without permission in my professional life” (Tulshyan, 2021). McCluney was often reminded she was the only black woman in the office so the remote space was a comforting way to detach from that reality. Women of color must also hide certain cultural elements of themselves which can cause them to lose aspects of their identity. Bringing in authentic food and having co-workers say “what’s that smell? It smells so weird in here”, is a common phrase women of color know when bringing in fragrant foods. Another woman of color, Pham, who is a Vietnamese-Born American states people in her office were offended by the paper lanterns she hung over her desk, “I heard secondhand that those lanterns upset some co-workers because they felt they were unprofessional” (Tulshyan, 2021). Lastly, having to code switch, which is defined as “when employees of color, particularly Black employees, feel pressure to adjust their style of speech, appearance, behavior and expression in ways that make others — especially white peers in the workplace — comfortable,” can be mentally exhausting as well (Tulshyan, 2021). After the murder of George Floyd and the media coverage of policing for Black America, it was hard for tax auditor Tisha Held to stay composed in her workplace during a traumatic time in her life.
So how do we support our marginalized communities in their transition to in-person work? Accommodate your employees through common schedule changes such as a hybrid schedule or a four-day week schedule. The flexibility of a hybrid schedule allows for employees to balance work life and family life along with decreased costs for transportation. The Society for Human Resource Management has also stated that the four-day work week is beneficial as it reduces employee burnout, increases productivity by approximately 20%, reduces time wasting activities, and results in higher loyalty from the employee (Agovino, 2020).
Overall, the return to the workplace post COVID-19 does not have to be a daunting task for both leaders and employees. By working together and acknowledging each other’s perspective, we can create an inclusive environment where everyone enjoys coming to work!
Agovino, T. (2020, June 20). The phenomenon of the four-day workweek. SHRM. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/four-day-workweek.aspx.
Parker, K. (2015, October 1). Women more than men adjust their careers for family life. Pew Research Center. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/01/women-more-than-men-adjust-their-careers-for-family-life/.
Sherwin, G. (2021, May 13). Discriminatory Return to In Office Work Mandates Could Push Women and People of Color out of the Workforce. American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.aclu.org/news/womens-rights/discriminatory-return-to-in-office-work-mandates-could-push-women-and-people-of-color-out-of-the-workforce/.
Tulshyan, R. (2021, July 8). Return to office? some women of color aren’t ready. The New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/23/us/return-to-office-anxiety.html.