Women push to deliver more while juggling work and life amidst COVID-19

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AkashniWeimers_100.pngBy Akashni Weimers

We have all encountered some degree of awareness, whether by experience or otherwise, of the challenges that women have faced in attaining positions of power and influence in key positions. At its core, many of these challenges are attributed to the ability of a woman to balance her work role and life.

COVID-19 poses a major threat to achieving/maintaining this balance. While working from home may have cut out the morning rush, or the frustrations of finding new nemeses within traffic jams on the daily, it has also replaced this 'extra' time with homework prep, online schooling and doing the laundry...all while ensuring that your toddler is not found swinging from a lampshade; and that breakfast is ready on time (phew!).

Still, women are expected to push the envelope, delivering like a professional on-time and in-full, often to the point of burnout, with workloads extending well after working hours and into the night, reports Maya Oppenheim, from the Independent.

What does this mean for talent within the procurement and supply chain landscape?
South Africa has long faced a talent shortage when it comes to strategic sourcing, procurement, logistics and other supply chain professionals, reports the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS). This is still a relevant notion in 2020:
1. One reason for the talent shortage is that not enough schools/universities are seen to be teaching procurement, supply chain or logistics as an elective subject within the general Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) curriculum. Such institutions are also not connecting with each other to promote bridging courses for students studying other degrees to incorporate an advanced supply chain elective from elsewhere into their studies in order to attain valid accreditation.
2. Another reason is that students looking for medium- to high-income earning careers often do not find the necessary learnerships available for e.g. packaging sourcing specialist functions and other niche skills required by, for example, numerous food manufacturing companies within South Africa, such as the Rhodes Food Group or Woolworths.

How can a poor work-life balance focus in organisations cripple female talent in procurement and supply chain?
It has been reported widely that there is a dire need to appoint more women in senior leadership positions. With the disproportionate employment and remuneration of men over women in senior roles, any further reduction of women in the supply chain talent pool (whether by way of leaving a company to take care of family responsibilities or through burnout from a lack of support for work-life balance) could have far-reaching negative effects for the trend of women progressing within these industries.

Not only does this further disenfranchise women from participating meaningfully within their jobs and the broader economy, this could take on further crippling effects for talent within the supply chain industries, where skills sets are lost as women become more and more inundated with reprioritising work-life activities or sacrificing one for the other.

What can organisations do to support women in attaining work-life balance post-COVID-19?
The first and most profound way for organisations to support women facing these challenges is through education and understanding.

Hosting workshops and forums, and employing the services of professionals to assist with healthy, meaningful conversations between female employees and their line management, are necessary to keep up with the changes of the day.

"Exploring avenues within teams to distribute work more evenly amongst employees for a temporary period of time (e.g. handing over a project to someone in a different role that can assist whilst he/she might not have much on his/her plate at present) is a means of support for the inundated individual", says Thina Balakistnen, Professional Coach Practitioner and Director of CIP Consulting. It is more pertinent than ever for management to revisit the drawing board on how to engage employees with empathetic ways of listening and getting to know their challenges.

Another way to ensure support is through affording women the flexibility to speak openly about home activities that must be scheduled, e.g. home-schooling, doctors' appointments, etc. without judgement or punitive behaviours.

Organisations can offer flexi-hours to women in such circumstances, offer check-ins at designated times in the day and shift meeting times around to accommodate women in achieving all tasks.

Post-COVID-19: a focus on work-life balance can preserve talent for procurement and supply chain
Traditionally, pre-COVID-19 the discussion on work-life balance was focussed on employee well-being. Post-COVID-19, however, the narrative takes a turn and focusses more on the debilitating effects to talent amongst women within procurement and supply chain, if managed poorly. Support by organisations for women in the workplace at this time is of vital importance. If nurtured sooner, much loss of critical talent could be prevented.

This article is written in a personal capacity and with the personal opinion of the author, Akashni Weimers.

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