The home revolution that wasn’t and will not be
The home revolution that wasn’t and will not be. How nothing changes when it comes to women. Inspired by the Economist’s story on South Korea’s attempts to stop demographic implosion .
With many of us having the privilege of working from home it is time to reflect on the ramifications of home working on the future of work. The impending revolution that will take hold of us. Or lack thereof.
Home working far from being a sign of an increasingly inclusive more humane way to work is a re-consolidation of a labour system that values middle aged men, “knowledge work”, and “hard” manufacturing to the detriment of women, minorities, and the old.
The notion that the pandemic will be the pressure that causes companies to rethink their operations and procedures is simplistic.
In fact the pressure on the global labour market have been apparent and more pressing for a very long time.
I turn now to the news that South Korea will attempt encourage male workers to stay at home so that they can have babies or the Japanese state subsidising IVF(though not making it free). These stories of society facing demographic implosion show that rather than meeting the challenges of the labour force(ageing, poor female labour force participation) head on, states and governments would prefer to tinker and shirk; in the US women still have no maternity leave.
These issues of inequity are ongoing structural issues that many companies could have addressed sometimes at no cost to themselves (improve women’s representation in their employees) and often with good returns . Research abounds about the returns to diversity and more inclusive spaces.
In a time when companies of all shapes and sizes are struggling to unlock more value and competitive edges letting women already present at entry levels posititons progress as men do and as well as repopulate our countries and society is relatively costless and necessary. It is also one decision that companies new and old are happy to avoid.
Covid does not change that. As demonstrated in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, corporate giants, new and old, do not use crisis to reinvent themselves for the better. Instead, crisis are used to expand market share and often to crush and marginalise already vulnerable people.
A big disappointment of this pandemic is that the simply making our pressing issues more salient and urgent will not push governments and companies to change their tune. Despite the talk of larger talent pools, more diversity and better life standards, many, especially women, are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place with more childcare and the same amount of work. Their sleep is being affected even as black and brown people working in our frontline and face to face service get laid off and die in disproportionate numbers.
Optimism has it place but the magical rewriting of previous misperceptions has the capacity to obscure the difficulty those in power and privilege have in relinquishing their control.
Flexible working and a more relaxed work environment are no brainers. And as high productivity Scandinavia shows, the “bullshit” jobs that permeate our society can be done well and efficiently by a well rested and fulfilled workforce.
Around the world we need to seriously consider the mechanisms that impoverish during crisis and outside of them. Women need much more support if they are to thrive in societies whether or not they choose to have children. BIPOC need more support both within an industrial west as well as globally to develop more sustainable pathways that can sidestep these issues. None of this will be easy and will need concerted multi-decade effort, reform, and social movement.
Covid is not a leveller. It is levelling those without power and privilege and ensuring that the home revolution we are experiencing is more like that BIPOC and women experienced post world-war 2, remarginalisation and a systematic erasure from economic life.