Moe Moe and her children with Thiri, Photo by: Thiri Aung, 2020
Over the past few months, make shift office spaces and Zoom conversations interrupted by a family member, pet, or a bad internet connection at home have become the “new-normal” for many. The transition to work-from-home has been difficult for everyone, but has especially put a strain on working women in frontier economies as they struggle to balance the responsibilities and expectations from their job as well as their family. We checked-in with a few female entrepreneurs of our alumni companies to discuss the new challenges and benefits they themselves and their female employees have encountered as they work from home.
Extending their caretaker role
As mothers, daughters and wives, most women are expected to take on the caretaking and household responsibilities. With schools closing down and family members staying in, almost all working women face difficulties meeting family and household needs while working. “Both my kids are staying at home so I have to take care of them, how their online classes are going,” Rajani Shrestha, Co-Founder of Waste Concern mentioned. She also has to visit and care for her father and support her husband both at home and at their work place.
Hla Hla Win, CEO of 360ed also shared that her female employees are having similar experiences. “They [parents] know their daughters are working but they still ask them to do chores during working hours and meeting times.” She added that male employees are typically given more freedom by their families, and have fewer challenges working from home.
The caretaker role does not end with the family. As entrepreneurs and leaders of responsible businesses in the midst of a global crisis, the demands of their work are also growing. Despite the lockdown, Rajani has been out in the fields to encourage her staff and spread awareness of personal hygiene and safety. “As an entrepreneur, what I feel I have to do in this situation is to retain human resources and provide them with financial and moral support,” she added.
Finding work-life balance
On the bright side, Moe Moe Aye Dwe, Co-Founder of Future Glory can spend more time with her two kids, “I am more informed of what’s going on in my child’s life, but there is more expectation to engage and participate in activities with them, so it can be more tiring.” Similarly, Hla Hla shared that the new flexible schedule allows her to spend more time with her children, but her work-life balance has been off since she no longer has a weekend divider and her work has been around the clock.
Thiri Aung, Co-Founder of Mickey’s Real Wood Upcycled Furniture is no stranger to working from home. Her furniture showroom has always been at her own home but having her three kids also being home has been a new challenge. “I separate my 9 to 5 working hours and try my best to explain to my kids that I am working during the day, but sometimes kids will be kids and they will want their mother’s attention.” Thiri also recommends that other working mothers communicate about their work hours to their children.
Establishing a support system
Under any circumstance, working women, especially working mothers, are in need of a support system to share their burden and access much needed help and advice. Luckily for Moe Moe and Hla Hla, other members in their households have been taking some responsibilities off their plates so that they can focus on their business. “Don’t feel like you need to do everything yourself, it will become a burden. Ask for help and share your difficulties with others,” Moe Moe advised.
Hla Hla recently used her affiliation with Business Coalition for Gender Equality, a local coalition of companies committed to promoting gender equality, to suggest a hotline for domestic violence after an incident with one of her employees during the work from home period. Thiri has also taken initiative to create a “Women Transforming Myanmar” Facebook group which allows women to network and share business tips and experience amongst each other.