The First Fellows Huddle Meeting

May 23, 2019

On Monday, the 20th of May, Ashoka held the first meeting of the ChangemakHERS Huddle series: Building Solutions. Ashoka Fellow Amina Swanepoel convened the meeting, which was attended by six women from the Ashoka community, to collectively tackle the question, "How can we support our fellow female team members in the workplace?"

As Founder and CEO of Roots of Health, Amina shared her experience and welcomed feedback and ideas on how to support female team members while not detracting from her organizations' resources. Amina posed two specific challenges that she is currently facing on this matter. 

The first challenge concerned the length of maternity leave and the resources needed to fund employees who are new parents. Until recently, the Philippine government offered only two months of paid maternity leave for parents, which was partially paid by the organization, and Roots of Health offered an additional, third paid month. However, the government recently passed a policy to extend the maternity leave to four months, and Roots of Health cannot afford to pay for an extra fifth month. 

The second challenge concerned the caregiving duties of staff members who occasionally need to bring their children to work, which can be distracting to other co-workers and can hinder productivity. While Amina's organization is generous in providing various types of care to employees, such as offering an extra week off before the Christmas and Easter holidays, balancing these benefits while conserving resources is not an easy chore. Thus, Amina welcomed feedback and ideas on how to more effectively strike this balance in the future. 

At its core, Amina’s challenges relate to leading a flexible organization that caters for the different needs of its employees, while also providing systematized benefits in order to ensure fairness and equality. Her situation also concerns the importance of communicating privileges to employees while taking into consideration the barriers that they face.

Attendees of the Huddle expressed similar experiences from their workplaces around the world, from South Africa, to Egypt and the Philippines. One suggestion was to open a channel for feedback from employees in order to survey their needs and to collect ideas on how these needs can be met without depleting resources. Attendees also suggested that a nursery in the workplace could be effective, but acknowledged the logistical difficulties this might pose in terms of space and expenses. Amina’s organization already provides toys and books for children who frequent Roots of Health either with clients or with employees, but this does not address children of all ages, especially infants who require constant care. Amina will experiment with some of the ideas shared in the Huddle meeting, such as communicating the relative benefits to employees compared to other NGOs, and possibly standardise some of the company’s policies to solve the aforementioned challenges.

Have you encountered a similar challenge in your workplace? What other models or solutions would you suggest adopting? Please leave your comments below!

Our next Huddle will take place on the 25 of June with Ashoka Fellow Janet Longmore. More details will be announced soon!

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