We have heard it, we have heard it being said and we have even said it – COVID-19 has wrought many challenges. Generally, not welcome challenges. The paradox of COVID-19 is that it also provides opportunities. Opportunities to innovate. Influence. Explore. This puts us all on the same page with Kate McBride, Chief, IT Services, United Nations Office, Nairobi.
Think back to the beginning of the year meetings, commute and interactions. Go on. Really give it a thought. Now leap into the future. Into tomorrow and how your meetings will be held, how you will commute, and how you will interact with others. What is the difference?
It is inside this gap that McBride realised women could, and were, in fact, transformative. Inside this gap lay innovative solutions. “There exist lots of opportunities for change and innovation. As IT thinkers, practitioners and leaders, we have an advantage; an opportunity to innovate frequently. In a pandemic, we have the ability to navigate in the new world. We have been using these tools. We have been developing this thinking of the virtual and remote world. And we know how to use them,” she affirms.
This was the case at the UN offices, Nairobi.
Familiarity with virtual tools and remote working had been a vision dating back to 2018/2019. “We were going to support our staff in UN operations anywhere and everywhere in Africa. Our goal, to be the green UN cost-effective service provider. COVID-19 was nowhere on our radar as we shifted to cloud-based services. Then COVID-19 hit. It was March 2020. We didn’t panic. We innovated. Our staff was in the cloud. We had mobile devices. At the same time we had to ask, did they have the connectivity and data redundancy they needed?”
Here, in this gap, was a blatant opportunity to accelerate innovation. Partnerships stood out. One, in particular, was between the UN Team and Safaricom. Quickly, before designing/creating the virtual campus, the UN worked to push data bundles to their staff, working on what we called the UN Connectivity Safety Net.
Staff and clients would use their basic ISP, and the UN through Safaricom would supplement that with mobile data bundles. In a matter of days, UN staff, supporters and management of the UN were confident operations would continue. “People were working from everywhere and anywhere, not just across Africa, but across the globe, from very early on in the pandemic. There was an opportunity and challenge allowing us to innovate. That technical toolbox and way of thinking is our advantage.”
McBride sees something else that is overlooked when it comes to skillsets. How women also have another advantage which came out clearly during COVID-19. “We are agile, results-driven planning mavens,” she observes.
Some of the examples expressed in women she works with. When schools closed, mothers went into action mode, quickly going remote with household WiFi distribution, playing catch up with homework assignments, holding conferences with teachers, doing groceries online, prepping meals and keeping everyone fed, all the while not missing a beat as work kept getting delivered.
“All this as we move from what is this, how long would this last, through pandemic fatigue to now when it just is. As women, we continued to support each other, friends and families, whether using Zoom for a Zumba class or virtual walk.”
This representation of a fine balance between nature and nurtured skills, agility, and what seem to be innately feminine skills are valued in the workplace. In fact, studies indicate that skills such as emotional and social intelligence, creative and innovative mindset, interpersonal skills, skills that women are considered to be naturally good at. “Overall, social skills – such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others – will be in higher demand rather than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control,” says PwC Australia.
McBride does seem to sing the praises of domesticity with a great degree of fondness, perceiving the household challenges as opportunities to showcase a unique skillset that women bring to the table. That this provides a foundation, and women know how to lean into these challenges such that a new normal becomes a better normal. One that is going to leverage not just technical hard skills but seeks and rewards this flexible agile lets-get-this-job-done, let’s get dinner served approach that women use to manage the work front, home front and relationships on both fronts.
It is not an easy time to be a woman in tech. However, it is certainly not as dire as it was 10, 20 years back. It would also be safe to say a swathe of women are presently unlikely to think of their domestic skills as transferable, or that they can go as far as being able to name them as a soft skill. If, as a woman reading this you can capture your domesticity as a skillset, more power to you. Keep in mind though, that skills are best demonstrated, and their use requires witnessing. In fact, it couldn’t hurt to learn more about the Future of Work should you need language for your skillsets.
McBride brings it all in by stating, “Look at these as opportunities to spotlight your strengths. Again, it will not just take tech muscle to succeed. Women need to also flex their agile muscle. This way, the many innovations you have continued to innovate over the last nine months will continue to multiply over the next 90 days. You are each a wonder, and innovator.”
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