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Celebrating Our Heroes - #ChooseToChallenge

“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge. How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”

Celebrating Our Heroes - #ChooseToChallenge
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  • Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
  • February 23, 2021
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While 2020 has been a challenging year for all, our women – heroes – have been disproportionately affected by the COVID crisis, with the ramification said to be gigantic for women’s economic equality.

In our last issue we took a closer look at all the ways this once-in-a-century pandemic has affected women, but in this edition, we celebrate our female heroes on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘Choose To Challenge’.

“A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change. So let’s all #ChooseToChallenge.”

What can we choose to challenge?

We can choose to challenge and call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping. We can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. And, according to IWD, collectively, we can create an inclusive and more gender-equal world.

“From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”

Natasha Janssens, founder, Women with Cents

  • Introduce yourself to us in two sentences?

I am a self-employed mother of two, running a holistic finance practice and a national financial education platform for women.

  • Tell us how your business has been impacted by COVID?

Due to the fact that I offer a wide range of services (including financial advice and mortgage broking), I noticed a mixture in demand levels across the various services. From a financial advice and accounting perspective, I was overwhelmed with clients needing feedback and guidance on the new measures – early access to super, JobKeeper, home loan repayment pauses, etc. Because I specialise in working with women (many of whom are single parents), I found that the demand for refinancing significantly slowed down. That is to say, the demand was there, however the process was taking significantly longer due to mothers struggling to juggle work and care commitments, so finding the time for additional paperwork proved to be a challenge for them. My financial education workshops also had to be cancelled, as did webinars because let’s face it – working mums had enough on their plate and were unable to attend such events even if held online.

  • COVID has disproportionately impacted women, have you felt this or seen it happen around you?

Yes, absolutely. I have experienced it first hand, as well as observing the impact on my female clients who were facing the same challenges, stress and exhaustion. For myself, while demand for my services had surged drastically in some respects, unfortunately I was unable to maximise this opportunity due to the lockdown and home-schooling restrictions. My husband is an essential worker and was working long hours, so he wasn’t able to work from home and assist me, and trying to tend to a two- and six-year-old on my own while working was near impossible and incredibly stressful.

  • How have you juggled home life and work given the COVID disruption?

I realised very quickly that trying to simultaneously work and look after two children was detrimental to my physical and mental health as well as the wellbeing of my children. We were all incredibly stressed. So, I made the strategic decision to take a step back from my work commitments until the children were back at school.

Carolyn Geyer, principal, Geyer Accountants

  • Introduce yourself to us in two sentences?

I am the owner and principal for Geyer Accountants. Some people may refer to me as ‘(slightly) older’ but I prefer ‘mature’.  I love my business and I love the team I have.  

  • Tell us how your business has been impacted by COVID?

The world talks about the effects of COVID being ’unprecedented’. Although I am tired of hearing that particular word it is the only description that aptly fits the 2020 year and the effect it has had on most businesses, including ours. Our practice spent weeks and weeks talking to our clients who were going through so much devastation with the lockdown. My team were no longer just accountants. Their tasks were to comfort clients, to counsel them. They took the time to listen to them and try to give the best guidance possible through the JobKeeper and Vic Grant maze. Later, of course, there was the whole issue of getting the team into a position to be able to work from home. So, ‘unprecedented’ is certainly an appropriate description.

  • COVID has disproportionately impacted women, have you felt this or seen it happen around you?

Over past years there has been some major steps forward towards equality of the sexes, however I believe one area that still has quite a way to go is with childcare at home. The negative impacts of COVID on women has been vast. I think the COVID impact on women, as far as childcare was concerned, was enormous. Many women were trying to work from home, along with taking care of children, and home-schooling. So many situations were well beyond being achievable. I know from talking to family, friends, colleagues etc that many women felt inadequate and exhausted beyond reason, for a situation that was totally unachievable. It would be interesting to get honest data on the workloads that were allocated between the sexes during the lockdown period. 

  • How have you as an accountant and a woman made sure to look after your own wellbeing and mental health while handling an increased workload?

I would love to list the wellbeing activities that I participate in to maintain my wellbeing but to be honest, I didn’t do that. Most women just want to get into the work and get it done, however that cannot be a long-term strategy. I think that maintaining your mental health and wellbeing means different things for different people. Our workload was crazy but as a business owner my attention very clearly needed to be on the team and their wellbeing. Once I knew my team were OK, I was able to relax and free my mind of stress. I walked, relaxed outside with a wine, spent some time on home projects and with the grandchildren. 2020 has been hard but the first six months of 2021 are also going to be just as busy as we all catch up. Our wellbeing strategies really need to be strong.

Rachita Bhatia, partner, Wilfrid Docker Accountants

  • Introduce yourself to us in two sentences?

I am a partner at Wilfrid Docker Accountants Pty Ltd and also a managing director of a six-year-old. Like many others, right now, I am hoping that 2021 brings better things for us all.

  • Tell us how your business has been impacted by COVID?

Undoubtedly, this year has posed unparalleled challenges. Being an accounting firm, our business was faced with an increased amount of workload due to the deliverance of government stimulus packages via the ATO. Comprehending the legislation around these measures and their application to client scenarios required a significant investment of our time. As a result, some of our regular compliance work took a back seat. We were in the process of wrapping up 2019 tax lodgements and then the 2020 financial year kicked in. There has been a lot of juggling around in terms or prioritising work but we must admit that both the Tax Office and our clients have been understanding of any delays that we have been experiencing. We were at one stage concerned about our clients’ ability to pay us and how that would impact our business. Luckily, we have managed to sail through the turbulent seas. There have been increased reporting deadlines in the past six to nine months. Along with coping from a business point of view, we have also been conscious of the mental wellbeing of all our staff to be able to deal with all the pressures that the situation required.

  • COVID has disproportionately impacted women, have you felt this or seen it happen around you?

In my conversations with people around me I have heard varying views. Some of the women who worked from home said that saving on the commuting time suddenly presented them with an extra couple of hours to catch up on their daily household chores. However, there were women who really struggled especially the ones who had the additional responsibility of home schooling their children during the working hours. Also talking to women around me I noticed that, in most cases, the role of managing the household and the children by default fell upon them. A lot of women have partners who are supportive but somehow this support seemed to be offered as an option. Help wasn’t initiated until requested. A client of mine joked that giving orders to her husband was a really tiring job!

I did read about increase in domestic violence during COVID in some media articles. I have personally not come across such a situation but my heart goes out to anyone who has had to endure any kind of physical or mental trauma at any time and not just during COVID.

  • How have you juggled home life and work given the COVID disruption?

In my case, I was staying longer hours at work during the peak of COVID as the government stimulus measures were being released then. When I reached home after work it was very difficult to do any school work with my daughter, as by that time she has already reached her saturation point for the day. However, the school was very supportive and asked me to do whatever I could do. There were some very stressful moments but having a supportive circle of family and friends offered a tremendous source of strength to see through all kinds of days.

A few times, I treaded on the edge of a breakdown. I was very fortunate that I had my mother here with me. She was visiting me from India and couldn’t travel back because of COVID. She has been my pillar of support during the whole of 2020. When I asked her what I was going to do once she goes back, she responded, “You will manage well. Just like you were doing before I came”.  She has taught me that it is an amazing quality of us human beings that we have this incredible ability to adapt ourselves to our changed circumstances.

In the face of our invisible enemy (coronavirus), people all across the globe have found ways to keep going on and not give in. Life will continue to throw at us some dark and dull days. We are all learning to adjust to many new versions of normal. There is no right or wrong way of coping. Our survival skills are unique to our individual situations. It is important to reach out to someone when we are feeling low or anxious. It is OK to scream or cry and let out the frustration or the anxiety. Don’t bottle it up. Remember to talk to someone.

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