Saskatoon manager 'flabbergasted' by wave of reaction to post about gender, workplace inequality during COVID

·4 min read

A manager at a Saskatoon business says he wants to be part of the solution when it comes to addressing inequality in the workplace for women, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a widely shared Twitter thread this week, Aaron Genest, a manager with Siemens Digital Industries in Saskatoon, explained his reaction when an employee asked to cut her hours back, in order to balance her work and family responsibilities.

He said "no" — but not for the reasons you may think.

The employee's husband had taken on more responsibility and the couple were having some trouble keeping their kids on track with remote learning, Genest said in his thread.

In the thread, he notes women have been disproportionately affected in the workplace by the COVID-19 pandemic, and said he didn't want his employees to become a victim of the same trend.

"So I said no. No, you can't become one of the women earning less because of COVID," he wrote in the posts, which he says he asked the employee about before writing.

"No, you can't sacrifice your career advancement because of a perceived lack of productivity. No, you don't need to feel guilty about taking the time to make sure your kids are learning."

Instead, he said he's working with the employee to make sure she's still productive and happy and "that she feels comfortable blocking off whatever time she needs in her calendar to support her family."

He also called on other employers to work with their teams "from within, above, or below, to support the people struggling through this."

The outsized effects of the pandemic on working women have been well documented, with some calling it a "she-cession."

A December Statistics Canada report found that measures to respond to COVID-19 have only deepened gender-based divisions when it comes to parenting.

"Women continue to report that they mostly perform these parental tasks, including home-schooling and it's important to underline home-schooling because it represents an additional responsibility directly related to the closure of schools during the pandemic," Karine Leclerc, the study's author, told CBC last month.

"The measures to combat COVID like quarantine, self-isolation, school closures — all that intensified the parental tasks but also added new responsibility such as home-schooling."

Thousands of responses

The thread, which Genest posted last Monday, has been shared more than a thousand times on Twitter and has garnered over 6,000 reactions.

"I'm flabbergasted, and perhaps a bit disappointed, at how much this story has resonated with people," he said during an interview with CBC Radio's The Morning Edition.

"The most common comment is that this is the way that things should be, and [the fact] that this is extraordinary, or worth commenting on, is unfortunate. And I wholeheartedly agree with that," he said.

A post about Genest's thread on the website declared that "this should be the golden rule that all employers should follow as we move forward to navigate what's currently happening in the world."

"Moms shouldn't be penalized, employers should be adapting to the new normal with them," Alison Cooper wrote at the parenting site.

Some of the responses to the Twitter thread are from employees recalling how they were accommodated, and employers detailing how they were working with their staff. But that wasn't the case for many.

"A lot of them, unfortunately, are the opposite," Genest said, and he's heard from people "who have had to leave jobs, or were trying to leave jobs, because they're not feeling supported. They're feeling that their time is counted more than their productivity."

People have told him they felt their employers didn't make allowances for illness, family concerns, or mental health challenges brought on by isolation, Genest says.

He says there are two main questions in the thread. One is whether employers are flexible enough to realize they're investing not just in productivity, but in people, no matter their gender identity.

"We should invest in the people who we want working for us, so they continue to work for us and continue to feel invested in in turn," he said.

"But the other question is what are we doing to ensure that when people are making decisions about who is going to take on the extra labour at home, that it's not falling to women disproportionately."

Genest himself was recognized by his employer for sharing the story. A post from the Siemens official Twitter account, which has over 190,000 followers, called his lead a "brilliant example of how we want to do things in the future."

"Focus on outcomes rather than on time spent at work," the company tweeted. "Thank you for being a front runner for us!"