Now that women routinely participate in the workforce, society has been left with the challenge of filling the unpaid labour gaps – the traditional care-giver and homemaker roles held by women – and to learn how to provide male and female workers with the flexibility and time to provide both paid and unpaid labour. The failure to provide balance significantly impacts workers’ quality of life, including reduced productivity, damaged health and the diminished viability of society as a whole.
According to Nancy Folbre in her book “Who Pays for the Kids? Gender and the Structures of Constraint”, the lack of flexibility in work hours, resistance to accommodating the demands of family labour, emphasis on continuous work experience are far more efficient for employers and men than for women, children or society as a whole.
Some of the initiatives that have worked in other societies include offering working mothers flexi-time, job sharing, subsidised child/day care both off and on site, and telecommuting. However, in the SME sector, although women account for a significant majority of the workforce, in many cases they are engaged in low-skilled jobs that are difficult to adapt to these measures. For instance, how do you work from home if your position is checking products in a manufacturing facility?
And for those who are engaged in part-time, temporary or contracting-out arrangements, their jobs are typically low-income, unstable or unregulated. The Beijing Declaration of 1995 spoke directly to this issue – "Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace." Additionally, research has shown that female workers are more vulnerable to layoffs because they are predominant in SME workforces.
Unequal treatment of working women has a direct impact on the financial sustainability of homes and communities, which in turn leads to greater risk to children. According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child (to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory), “each state has a duty to maximise the survival and healthy development of each boy and girl under its jurisdiction.” Therefore there is a government responsibility to provide incentives that encourage balance and support strategies for working parents in the public and private sector.
But even though it benefits our entire society to provide working parents with mechanisms that enable them to balance family and work responsibilities, few firms implement them. While the chamber understands that this may not be a feasible solution for most firms, it is certainly one strategy a company can consider for implementation, if it is practical to do so.
In order to convince SME employers to provide solutions for balance, we must talk money. According to the Aspen Institute, in a March 2016 interview with economist and author of the book Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict, Heather Boushey, generous work-life balance policies benefit everyone, including employees, businesses, and the economy as a whole. For example, policies that make it possible for workers to focus on their jobs without having to worry about their children – because they have a schedule that works for them.
The benefits of providing support for working mothers clearly outweigh the costs. Because of their innate flexibility, SMEs are uniquely positioned to be creative and work with employees to find mutually beneficial solutions. It is difficult enough to attract and retain staff as a small firm, but implementation of policies that are empathetic to employee familial responsibilities can position SMEs as ideal employers, whilst making a valuable contribution to nation building. Simply put, that is good business.
The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce thanks Lara Quentrall-Thomas for her contribution of this article.
(Content courtesy the TT Chamber of Commerce)