Working from Home and Gender Equity: Webinar Report

When COVID-19 hit and we all started to work from home, we had a very vague sense of what that really meant. Our homes became our offices, our labs, our writing spaces. Our constant efforts to maintain some balance and separation between our work and our private lives faced a new challenge: working from home became business as usual.

UNSW Co-Gender Champion, Timothy O'Leary held a webinar with a panel of researchers and professional staff to discuss the impact COVID-19 and remote working has on gender roles.

The panel included Professor Louise Chappell of the Australian Human Rights Institute, Dr Tim Wong of the Gendered Violence Research Network, Claudio Sissa from the Business School, Dr Alison Ciesla from the Faculty of Engineering, along with Dr John Carr from FASS and Dr Sonya Brown from Engineering.

Staff feedback

  • The commitment of our staff was a sentiment that came through very strongly. As a result of this dedication, many staff are struggling to keep up with their work, especially those with young children or other caring responsibilities.
  • It emerged very clearly that caring responsibilities were often being undertaken in an unbalanced manner, mostly by one female partner during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The domestic workload had also increased during this time due to all members of the household being at home all the time (food prep, domestic chores, etc).
  • Young and precariously employed academics, especially women, were increasingly worried about how the drop in research productivity would impact their careers for years to come.
  • There were also some positives: most importantly, the previously hidden burden of domestic labour had been exposed for all to see.
  • Those with partners were, perhaps for the first time, making explicit agreements about sharing domestic work and childcare.
  • Despite the challenges, staff are keen to hold onto some elements of the new normal: for example, recognition of the burdens of domestic labour and a more equitable and explicit sharing of that load; and recognition that flexible work can be a positive option for many people, if given adequate institutional support.
  • The reduced time wasted in commuting to the university is also a bonus.

 

Staff suggestions

  • Adjust impacted KPI’s and workload expectations for all staff, both professional and academic.
  • Develop Achievement Relative to Opportunity (ARO) guidelines that explicitly address the impact of COVID-19. These guidelines should be used to inform workplace assessments (MyCareer conversations, Promotion, internal grant applications) for an agreed period of time (eg, 2020-22).
  • Recalibrate expectations for promotion, especially for women and others who have caring responsibilities at home.
  • Recognise that the impact of COVID-19 will be compounded over time, especially for ECA’s.
  • Provide more support for parents, both now and into the future: assistance with childcare, conference travel, parental leave, return to work, career advancement fund, etc.
  • Provide affordable, accessible childcare on campus; this was seen as a potentially ‘life-changing’ and ‘career-changing’ support.
  • Develop policies that explicitly address the University’s responsibility as employer of a home-based workforce, taking into consideration OHS, the possibility of domestic abuse, etc.

 

Next steps

  • The feedback from this discussion, along with a range of other research into the gendered impact of COVID-19, will help to inform decision-making as UNSW prepares for a post-COVID world.
  • The UNSW co-Gender Champions will be hosting further events as we move back to campus in the coming months.
  • The Champions are always happy to hear suggestions from staff, especially around our efforts to further engage men in the work of redressing gender inequity.