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Remote Work: A Tool For Gender Inclusion

Remote Work: A Tool For Gender Inclusion

Remote Work: A Tool For Gender Inclusion - The Spark

The average woman in the corporate world is faced with a duality – her life at home as a mother, wife or homemaker and combining it with life at the workplace. In this interview, Pearl Nkrumah, Head, Enterprise Banking at Stanbic Bank Ghana, dissects this sensitive topic with professionalism and razor-sharp articulation. As a woman and mother with such a massive career, she speaks on this issue from a place of experience and passion. Gender inclusion isn’t just another buzzword for your ears only – it’s a critical issue which impacts corporate life as well as entrepreneurship.      

We Are All Human Before Anything Else

The experience of working remotely wasn’t exciting for me at first. As a boss I had to learn to be empathetic towards members of my team who had struggles with working remotely – whether it was their babies crying during our online team meetings or their family members intruding and interrupting. The professional space is important for me – I love dressing up for work and “putting my professional hat on”. So, it was hard to adapt at first because I’m so used to working from the professional space and separating it physically from my home.  

However, I don’t have to be in traffic early in the morning because I can do my work from home. Virtual and remote work has made life more flexible and I believe it’s something everyone should take advantage of, especially women because it increases Gender Inclusion. 

At first, the conversation on Gender Inclusion would always look like an agenda to place women over men and vice versa, but I see it from the perspective of equality. In certain conversations we have to primarily think of ourselves as “human” before either “male” or “female”. It’s not a gender war – we need to become more equal in all fields and remove the stereotypes that inhibit us from achieving such human equality. 

As a society we have used our values and societal dimensions to exclude certain people from opportunities that they should ordinarily have access to and that is the problem we need to eliminate. We need to include every human. We can’t exclude certain genders and say that they cannot do certain things and at the same time we can’t just say that certain things or activities are for a certain gender only. 

Gender inclusion is not a quota system – it’s not just about saying that five or ten more women have been recruited or added to the group. It’s about everybody being allowed to add value to our society in their own specific way. Everyone should be given the chance to bring their own offering to the table and make a difference. Everybody should be allowed to do what they can do and we all have to earn our place. I’m of the opinion that “If there’s no seat at the table then you should go with a foldable chair”.   

Gender Inclusion – What’s The Current State In Africa? 

Statistically in Africa, Ghana has the second highest number of women entrepreneurs. This is largely due to some of the stereotypes from the past that there are certain corporate jobs that women shouldn’t do. This has motivated a lot of women to reinvent themselves in so many ways in order to support their families. Women being restricted in the corporate world has made them become more entrepreneurial. Now it’s normal to see female doctors, engineers and lawyers in Ghana but this hasn’t always been the case. 

We also see situations where certain women who are running businesses solely, still feel that they have to consult their husbands before making any financial decisions for their business. This is one of the problems in our mindset as regards gender inclusion – the mental inhibition that married women can’t run their business on their own and must involve their husbands, even when their husbands may not necessarily be in the business. 

I’ve been a segment head in my organization for seven years and in this segment I’m the only woman amongst six men. It’s always assumed that women bring their emotions into everything and in the corporate world this is always used against us. 

I’ve had experiences in meetings where I’ve been told to “stop being emotional” simply because I was expressing myself passionately on an important topic. I’ve never seen this same expression used for a man when he’s speaking passionately in a meeting. This misconception that women get ahead or get away with things, not with their intelligence or skillset, but using only their emotions is another stereotype that needs to go away. 

In the Ghana Club 100, you have only about 5 businesses who are being run by women – this is at the apex of businesses in Ghana. But at the micro level, women own over 70% of the small and medium scale businesses in Ghana. These businesses get stagnated at the micro level because women have been restricted to certain brackets. This shouldn’t be so.  

If we take you as a person, excluding gender, are you keeping up with the standard of work that has been set in your field? Are you professionally good at what you do regardless of your gender? That’s the real question. 

Remote Work & Gender Inclusion

The conversation of remote work and gender inclusion applies to people differently based on their peculiarities. For example, in the case of a business consultant who also happens to be a nursing mother, the presence of virtual tools and remote work can prevent her from losing her clients to a male competitor. Normally, women are restricted from working because they have kids. Also, we experience the stigma that whenever you have to meet up with a man at a hotel to broker a deal, then it means you two are having an affair. All these restrictions and stereotypes can now be averted by adopting virtual tools for communication and remote work. 

Consumer behaviour is also changing drastically as working remotely is being accepted globally. We’re now realizing and accepting that many services don’t have to be rendered physically as the way we used to. Remote monitoring, stock management and some other new remote-working practices are allowing women to run their businesses without having to stop because they are pregnant or have recently put to bed. 

Work-Life Balance

There’s never really ever a perfect balance. When I’m giving my 100% percent at work, something else must suffer – whether it’s my family or my personal life. What matters to you most at that crucial moment is what creates the balance. It’s value and focus that creates balance. If you try to balance every single thing at each point in time it might all fall apart. 

Working from home in the post-COVID-19 era could pose a difficulty for some women who now have to balance their work, family and personal life within the same space. My advice is that you shouldn’t discard the things you were relying on to balance your work and life before COVID-19. If you had a help at home who would take care of the kids in your absence then that person should remain so even while working from home, you can still maintain laser focus. If your organization starts to feel that your productivity levels are dropping due to remote work, then it’s time for you to get help. 

The line has to be drawn between the time my organization is paying me for and my own personal time. The fact that I’m now working from home doesn’t mean you get to set a virtual meeting at 7am. If my contract states that work starts at 8am then it means the organization isn’t respecting my time. With what has happened during the pandemic, we now have multiple channels of delivery in the workplace. This means increased flexibility. Organizations should support their employees with whatever they need to work from wherever. Some people need to leave their family environment and come to the physical workplace in order to be more productive, whereas some people find it easier and better to work from home. From the perspective of the employee however, don’t forget that your job is the reason you can afford your lifestyle so it’s very important that you stay productive or else you could lose it.          

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