USIU-Africa hosts virtual webinar on fairness in gender - perspectives on making the workplace fit for women

By Anne Nakhungu Cheloti

On November 23, Ms. Helen Ambasa, Director of Legal Services, moderated a panel discussion titled Fairness in Gender - Perspectives on making the workplace fit for women. The aim of this discussion was to share perspectives that will aid in making the workplace more conducive towards women. The panelists included Dr Njoki Fernandes who is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist, HealthCare Consultant and Lecturer in Reproductive Health at the Kenya Methodist University, and Ms. Bertha Kowido who is a seasoned human resource professional with over 12 years of experience in Human Resources Management.

The webinar commenced with a discussion on safeguarding policies and their significance. The panelists stipulated that safeguarding policies are policies put in place by organizations to protect the interests of disadvantaged and vulnerable employees. They advocate for equity and equality within the workplace and ensure representation of vulnerable groups without fear of retaliation from the organization. Examples provided included sexual harassment policies, anti-harassment policies, discriminatory policies, parental leave policies, remote working policies, and recruitment policies.

The panelists stipulated that recruitment policies should incorporate a requirement for female representation, fostering confidence among women. They also recommended well-structured rewards, compensation, and recognition policies to enhance women's security within organizations. Additionally, the incorporation of hybrid/remote working policies, flexible hours, and improved maternity leave policies was proposed, particularly benefiting women in the reproductive phase. A well-structured annual succession plan was suggested for fair gender representation, enhancing confidence and increasing profitability. Additionally, the need for insurance policies tailored to address specific needs of individuals within organizations was also highlighted.

The panelists also emphasized the importance of the implementation of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) agenda within the work place pointing out that this enhances an organization’s brand and ensures retention of staff. The panelists stated that women and men cannot be evaluated equally due to differing life responsibilities. Therefore, all performance assessments carried out in the workplace should take consideration of this and provide different parameters for assessing output and productivity rather than simply relying on the time factor.

The panelists also outlined ways in which men can contribute to creating a workplace conducive to women. This includes supporting the DEI agenda, championing for policies favoring women, allowing women to lead conversations, and acknowledging their contributions. Furthermore, men in male-dominated professions were urged to mentor women in the same field. The importance of sensitivity, and kindness towards women, especially during reproductive phases, menopause, and health challenges, was also emphasized.

The discussion then delved into the twin issues of menopause and perimenopause. The panelists stipulated that menopause is a season in the reproductive life of a woman that marks the end of her reproductive capacity. Perimenopause on the other hand was described as the time just before menopause. The panelists also mentioned that men undergo a version of menopause known as andropause, however, it only occurs at the late stages of life. Menopause occurs at the peak of most women’s careers. This is the time when they have to be most active and productive as they are tasked with more responsibilities. Menopause and perimenopause could affect a woman’s work life and it is therefore prudent that women in this phase of life are considered and catered for within the workspace.

The panelists stipulated certain ways in which these women can be supported during this stage of life. They stated that organizations should ensure knowledge and awareness of these life transitions. This could be achieved by normalizing conversations all the way from top management down through the work chain. Organizations should ensure that there is no retaliation against women going through menopause or perimenopause within the organization. Further, that organizations should include a medical cover that caters for life transitions. They also emphasized the need for women to sensitize and involve others in their transitions because it is easier for others to support you when they are aware of your situation. Additionally, the panelists emphasized the need to consult with a gynecologist who can walk with you throughout the journey.

The panelists also spoke on returnship programs also known as buddy systems which have been implemented by a number of organizations to provide support for women returning from maternity leave and those battling health challenges and life transitions. They stated that work spaces can look into implementing these programs to provide support for women within their workspace. They also added that women who may be undergoing depression or any other mental challenges as a result of these life transitions, should endeavor to seek therapy. Additionally, they stated that organizations should incorporate wellness plans that speak to the needs of women, and that that they should adopt flexible wardrobe options which allow women to dress in clothes that do not aggravate the symptoms brought about by these life transitions such as hot flashes and sweats. Furthermore, they stated that organizations could incorporate regular pulse surveys that will ensure that the organizations keep abreast of their employees' needs. This will also assist in ensuring that the organization's medical insurance company customizes its services to better align with the evolving health and well-being requirements of the workforce. Moreover, for women transitioning from maternity leave back to work, well equipped lactation places could be set up within the workplaces to aid in coping with the transition back to work.

On the flip side, they stated that women should also endeavor to remain proactive even while on maternity leave or sick leave in order to ensure that the organization still feels their presence and contribution. They added that women should ensure to voice their concerns in a safe space that protects them from retaliation. It is only in doing so that sensitization and destigmatisation around these matters can be achieved.

In closing, the panelists emphasized the collective responsibility to cultivate an environment that encourages kindness, aiming to provide support for individuals navigating various life transitions. They highlighted that education and open conversations are essential tools to destigmatize these experiences, fostering a culture of understanding and compassion.

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