How business can support women during covid-19 in Africa

May 1, 2020
5 min read
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With the adverse and uncertain implications of COVID 19 on the economy, businesses are facing tremendous trade-offs regarding stakeholder welfare and costs. Despite these challenges, business leaders still have a choice to either prioritise long-term sustainability or short term gains. As a business passionate about partnering with the SDGs, we decided to take a long-term sustainability approach where we balance social inclusion, economic growth, and environmental protection in navigating through the pandemic. In this article, we share our experience in taking a sustainability approach in our COVID 19 response and highlights from a webinar series "COVID-19: How Business Can Support Women".

Visual illustration of how business can support women during covid-19 in Africa

Although the technology industry is globally male-dominated, Bewsys is a female-dominated tech company. Women form 60% of the company’s employees and 50% of the senior management are women. The average age of women in our organisation is 27 years. Thus, to ensure that the impact of our COVID 19 response is socially inclusive, gender is a critical factor in our decision making. Considering the cultural environment in which we operate in Ghana, we recognised three main challenges that our COVID 19 response had to address. During the pandemic, women have increased domestic dependency, increased financial dependency, and increased exposure to domestic violence and COVID 19 stigmatisation. Although we internally have policies such as performance-based payment, transparent performance assessment, anti-bullying, anti-harassment, and zero discrimination policies that ensure gender equality and inclusion, we had to consider the external implications of the pandemic on employees especially women.

While having a 50% female representation in senior management, our COVID 19 business continuity plan was led by a woman to ensure that we are gender-sensitive to the socio-economic challenges of the pandemic. During the pandemic, there is increased domestic dependency on women, given the closure of schools and lockdown restrictions on access to domestic support services (such as housekeeping, caregivers for both children and the aged, etc.) that ease the domestic cultural dependency on working women in Ghana. For example, before COVID 19, Jane sometimes had to leave work an hour earlier to ensure the well-being of her children after school when her part-time nanny was unavailable. Considering such experiences, we introduced remote work with flexible working hours to enable employees, especially women, to enhance their work-life balance given the increased domestic dependency. In Jane’s remote work satisfaction report, she said, “I am delighted to spend my previous commute time and an extra hour during working hours to home-school my children. It makes me happy that I can maintain my job and provide my kids with quality education during the pandemic.”

In Ghana, the lockdown restrictions and public fear have had a significant impact on economic activities. Public consumption has shifted to main essentials such as food, health, and transportation. Thus, several industries that do not provide necessities have had to resort to lay-offs of workers to stay afloat while some self-employed workers in the informal sector are out of business. In Ghana, where public social protection services do not have extensive coverage, most people seek social protection cash benefits from relatives and friends during economic downtimes. This increases the financial dependency of workers who are still in employment during the pandemic. Workers are also burdened with the need to make bulk purchases of necessities to minimise the effects of the lockdown restrictions and uncertainties of supply.

Considering these factors, at Bewsys, we decided to maintain our bi-weekly salary payment policy to ensure that staff always have the cash to afford their necessities and provide for their dependents. We also restructured staff allowances by diverting a portion of the operational cost savings from the elimination of transportation allowance to provide monthly mobile internet data allowance for our remote employees. In addition, we updated our company devices policy to ensure that employees are not burdened with purchasing laptops, mobile phones, and other devices to work remotely. Through our biweekly staff satisfaction survey on remote work, we identified access to a stable internet connection as a challenge for many employees. Thus, we are currently working with a mobile network operator to provide a company-owned internet router that employees can connect to remotely. The objective of this is to decrease the cost of mobile data plans for employees to ease the financial burden of COVID 19 on their income.

As a sustainable development focused company, we believe that we have the mandate to ensure that employees are socially protected. During COVID 19 response, we recognized that considering how to minimise exposure to COVID 19 stigmatisation and domestic violence threats is necessary to safeguard the well-being of employees. Thus, we incorporated weekly welfare check-ins on employees. The human resource department and line managers check on employees weekly to know their wellbeing during remote work. We also have biweekly remote work satisfaction surveys where employees are encouraged to share the challenges they face while working remotely. Through this, we can determine both business and welfare-related issues to support employees. When an employee was quarantined after being exposed to a relative who tested positive for COVID 19, we had all employees record personal welfare videos that were shared with her. In a routine welfare check-in on Lizzy, she said, “I am bored at the quarantine facility. However, being able to engage in employee social activities virtually (especially the weekly sustainable development goals awareness trivia) gives me something exciting to look forward to.” It was indeed a grand celebration for the entire team when her test results were negative.

For us at Bewsys, we count such moments where no employee is left behind as success stories worth celebrating. Shifting to remote work is a milestone we intended to reach in 2025. However, during the response to COVID 19, we have piloted and decided to commit to being a fully remote company. As a female-dominated tech company that prioritises gender and inclusion, this change supports our mission of working with inspired people to develop software solutions that impact lives. We are delighted that internally, this shift is supporting the social and economic sustainability of our business. Beyond the crises, we are fully a remote tech company and we continue to partner with the sustainable development goals in our operations and solutions to our clients.

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