Women in leadership, anxiety and lessons learned: A world after COVID

ANU academic Dr Toni Eagar wonders whether the lessons learned during COVID-19 will continue on in the years to come. Picture: Karleen Minney
ANU academic Dr Toni Eagar wonders whether the lessons learned during COVID-19 will continue on in the years to come. Picture: Karleen Minney

After more than 12 months of living in a global pandemic, it's hard to remember how things were before.

Dr Toni Eagar, a marketing lecturer at the Australian National University, has spent most of that time working from home.

Like many Australians, she's wondering how things will look once the world sees the other side of this life-changing event.

Other notable upheavals of the 20th century resulted in years of periods of cultural and economic change with society's responses visible in the history books.

The hedonism of the 1920s is often considered a response to the turbulent years preceding it, including the World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic.

The party was cut short, however, with the Great Depression and World War II following soon after.

Dr Eagar wondered whether a parallel could be made a century later.

"Is this a tipping point where there's going to be so much economic and social malfunction out of this, leading to periods of complete and utter chaos?" Dr Eagar said.

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Australia has largely remained sheltered from the devastating disruption seen in Europe and the United States but that hasn't allayed most of the nation's anxieties.

Comparatively small but worrying outbreaks in Melbourne and Sydney since the initial lockdowns have meant Australians have learned to live through fluctuating restrictions.

But once the nation is vaccinated and COVID-19 is no longer a major threat, Dr Eagar said it's still not clear whether the post-COVID world would make way for an economic and cultural boom or a more gradual return to normality.

"Pandemics do tend to lead to social, political and economic upheaval for extended periods of time and [once] people get let out, [they can go] completely wild," Dr Eagar said.

"There's this bottled up demand for things like travel, getting out, having experiences but then, on the other side, we've been living with the anxiety of everything.

"It's a matter of how much will that bottled up demand be suppressed by the anxiety of what could happen."

What Dr Eagar does hope will stick in the years ahead are the leaps forward in flexible working arrangements alongside the acknowledgment of the societal gaps that emerged from them.

While it wasn't a situation she personally faced during the working from home stint, she believed the cracks showed as working mothers grappled with doing both roles simultaneously.

"You can't be a mother and a worker at exactly the same time working from home," Dr Eagar said.

"With more men now working from home and being more aware of what it means to have kids around all the time, does that make them more sympathetic to working mothers and will policies become more sympathetic?"

The theme for this year's International Women's Day is about achieving equality in a COVID world but those rifts exposed the additional barriers women often have to face in the workplace.

Dr Eagar notes while working from home has been a largely positive outcome, it was now up to businesses to find ways to support parents who were often left at a disadvantage.

"There's all sorts of societal divisions between people who can work from home versus those who can't," Dr Eagar said.

"Are businesses going to take on more of that facilitation role in enabling workers if they want people to return to the office?"

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This story A tipping point? Imagining the world after COVID-19 first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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