With COVID-19 now considered a global pandemic, we have seen immense and rapid impacts for individuals and business. While many organisations are exercising flexible work policies in the form of advising staff to work from home, or holding meetings via video conference rather than face to face, this is not possible for customer facing staff.

There are many knock-on effects that COVID-19 will have including parents needing to stay home to look after children should schools close down, casual hours being cut as there is a downturn in customer trade, and possible redundancies just to name a few. During this unprecedented time, it’s critical to be aware of our unconscious bias when making decisions regarding personnel in the workplace.

Should you need to consider a reduction in staff hours, or changing the wording of leave policies, review these decisions with a gender equitable lens. Question why these decisions are being made – don’t reduce a female’s hours just because she may have a partner that is able to support her, or children at home to look after. If schools close, ensure you are advising and/or encouraging your male employees to work from home or take leave to look after the children, equally as you would your female employees. If a female employee is required to stay at home with children, offer her the ability to design her own roster or offer flexible start and finish times. For more information on unconscious bias visit wgha.org.au

During this unprecedented and difficult time there will be opportunity for stretch assignments, that is tasks or interim roles that are more advanced due to other staff taking precautionary measures or self-isolation or testing positive to COVID-19. Give stretch assignments to female staff. This is a fantastic opportunity to advance women’s careers, as women are often promoted on past experience, rather than potential. So, give women the chance to step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities and take on a challenging new task, project or role.

The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to challenge entrenched social dynamics and systemic functions in which our organisations operate, and we need to challenge these in a way that benefits both women and men. As we have already seen, changes to our workplace are no longer dependent on workplace culture only, but out of community necessity. We must make conscious decisions that benefit all employees.