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Sample Report: Summary Report on the M4M Interviews and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs)


By mygemadmin - Posted on 19 Abril 2010

BACKGROUND: Objectives, Participants and Methodologies

Interviews and home visits were held with the M4M Virtual Team (VT) from July 11 to July 19, 2003. The VT was made up of six women and two men. Two FGDs were held with the eHomemaker members and M4M part-timers on July 12 and July 21, 2003.

The objectives of the interviews and the FGDs were to explore certain aspects of teleworking such as characteristics and skills needed by a woman to fully benefit from working at home, its impact on the women’s lives and on their families, barriers faced by women in teleworking and ways to address such challenges.

FINDINGS FROM THE INTERVIEWS AND FGDS

  • Reasons for Getting Into Home-based Work

Most of the participants are married, have children, and did not want to spend most of their time in the office. Some of them have been housewives for a long time before rejoining the workforce as teleworkers. Others gave up their jobs to spend more time with their families and have been in home-based work as an alternative source of income.

But for most of them, opting to work at home had little to do with financial reasons.

Only two VT members work at home as the main breadwinner in the family. Many said joining the workforce again came from a personal desire to be involved in something else besides their husband and children. Because most of them had careers before they got married, they had begun to feel bored being full-time homemakers and needed something else to occupy their time.

  • Benefits of Teleworking

All of the respondents agreed that the biggest benefit of working at home was flexibility in terms of time management. Working at home allows them to spend time with their families, manage the tasks at home, and continue to earn income.

To some, working at home compared to being full-time homemakers, has increased their confidence. One source of their confidence comes from earning their own income; no longer do they have to rely on their husbands for their expenses. However, a huge part of their increased confidence comes from involvement in activities and interests beyond the reaches of the home, which has improved their overall relationship with their husbands and children.

Others said their ICT skills have greatly improved as a result of their home-based work because they had to learn how to troubleshoot minor computer problems on their own, unlike in the office.

One of them said that as a result of her homebased work, she has found a reason to tell her husband to start taking on some of the household tasks. Now that she herself is into home-based work, she can use the same reason her husband gave to her before – because of her work, she is too tired to do household chores.

Other benefits cited include no longer having to deal with the traffic in Malaysia, which saves them time; no more office politics; no more worries on office wardrobe and “how you look”.

FACTORS THAT AFFECT HOME-BASED WORK

  • Perception of Home-based Work

One of the barriers of working at home was the perception of their families and peers that home-based work is not a “real job”. Family members would often disturb them, assuming that since they are home, they can run errands, do the household work and are available for social visits.

This problem was most felt during the first few months of working at home. Distractions became less after explaining to their familiesand friends that teleworking is just as serious and as important as office-based work.

SUPPORT FROM FAMILY MEMBERS

Support from family members is valuable for home-based work to succeed. Their families must understand that they cannot be disturbed or bothered when they are working. Respondents who have very young children had made arrangements with other family members (mothers, aunts, sisters) to take care of the children during their work hours.

Setting up the home office also needs support from the family who have to understand that they need a work space. Unless family members are supportive, the space where to work efficiently cannot be accommodated. Such was the case of one respondent whose husband refused to give her space for her home office.

However, most of the respondents did get support from their spouses which came in varied ways. Some spouses bought the necessary equipment and others offered technical and work-related support. Other husbands took care of the children, especially during weekends. One respondent had changed her household “standards” and had become less critical of her husband who now helps in the household chores which she has increasingly allowed him to do.

LACK OF TECHNICAL SUPPORT

Lack of technical support at home is one difficulty faced by women who use computers for their home-based work. Some resort to technicians for repair, or call up one of the VT members or their husbands and children for help. One respondent said that repair services are expensive and based on her experience, home-based work is more expensive than office-based work where both equipment and technical support are provided for.

LABOUR POLICIES IN MALAYSIA

Some respondents in the FGDs want labour laws in Malaysia to recognise working at home as legitimate work. As such, government should give the same benefits and support enjoyed by office-based workers to teleworkers.

On the other hand, one respondent said that working at home is a supportive option for foreign women in Malaysia. Current laws in the country do not allow spouses of employed foreigners to work. Most of the time, it is the husband who works while the wife takes on homebased, informal work. If home-based work were to be formalised in Malaysia, it will negatively affect the employment opportunities of foreign women in the country.

COST OF ICTS IN MALAYSIA

Respondents also expressed their interest in learning more ICT skills to improve their teleworking opportunities. However, aside from a lack of affordable training for women interested in computer-based teleworking; internet access and equipment are expensive. This is a major problem for homemakers who are just starting out without any support from their families.

MANAGEMENT ISSUES

Most of the respondents talked about the need for better VT management. Because of the nature of the work, there is very little opportunity for management to monitor and verify the work of the team. It is important for management to be very clear and focused on what it expects from the staff. The VT works in such a way that when one staff member does not deliver, the work of the rest is affected either because they would have to take on the unfinished work, or because their own work is dependent on the output of the others. Another important matter was transparency of management in terms of payment schemes, decision-making and performance evaluation criteria.

PROFILE OF AN “IDEAL” TELEWORKER

One of the main objectives of the M4M evaluation was to come up with a profile of an “ideal” teleworker. Although all respondents agreed anyone can work at home, there being no need for special qualities, they however pointed some characteristics that would make for an “ideal” teleworker: adequate ICT skills, honesty, selfdiscipline and commitment to the work.

RECOMMENDATIONS: CREATING AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT FOR HOME-BASED WORK

From the results of the interviews and the FGDs, the following were recommended to set up an environment conducive to homebased work, particularly for women:

  • Increase ICT Access

A home-based worker, at the minimum will require a PC, telephone, printer and internet access. Setting up a home office is not affordable for everyone and other women may not have the means to make such an investment.

Although Malaysia is developing fast in terms of ICT access, there is still a need for affordable ICT tools and internet connection, particularly for women who want to go into home-based ICT work. Access, while not too much of a problem in Kuala Lumpur and the satellite areas in terms of infrastructure, is still quite expensive. Currently, telephone calls in Malaysia are metered which jacks up the cost of dial-up access. The alternatives – DSL and cable – are expensive. Obviously, government has to lower the costs of ICTs. In the meantime, other alternatives are to open loan schemes for home-based workers, and provide affordable community internet access centres.

  • Training and Skills Development

Aside from ICT access, affordable ICT training for women who want to take on home-based ICT work is a much-felt demand. Respondents pointed out that ICT training should focus on the following: basic computer use, basic internet training, troubleshooting, email writing skills, website development, and software applications. Other areas for training include: time management, setting up home offices, non-ICT based work that can be done at home, and basic financial management.

  • Professional Management

Management of home-based workers must also be professionalised. (This does not mean fully simulating office-based work.) Alternative management plans and schemes for home-based workers must be developed, taking into account the multiple roles that women and men who work at home are faced with. Home-based management schemes must be more output-driven which requires clear tasks, deliverables and deadlines for members of the staff. These management schemes must also make full use of available technologies to ensure transparency and accountability. For instance, M4M’s Virtual Office relies largely on email as a means for communicating and file-sharing. There is a need to develop other ways of file-sharing, such as developing a VT intranet where all outputs (reports, funding proposals, financial statements, etc.) are shared among the team.

  • Changes in the National Labour Policies

Re-think current labour policies in Malaysia to include teleworking where government will offer home-based workers the same benefits that office employees receive. New policies on home-based work will have to ensure that the rights of workers are protected from unfair labour practices and employers.

EVALUATING THE LONG-TERM EFFECT OF TELEWORKING ON GENDER RELATIONS AT HOME

Given the number of years the respondents have been working at home and the number of years teleworking has been practised in Malaysia, it was difficult to detect if teleworking challenges male and female roles at home. On one level, empowerment is achieved according to the respondents who attributed increased confidence as a result of working at home. On the other hand, home-based work can be seen as merely addressing practical gender needs, that is, “the needs women identify that do not challenge their socially accepted roles”.

Home-based work can be looked at as a compromise for women who are expected to fulfil their roles as mothers and homemakers. However, none of the respondents questioned why they had to give up their careers in the first place. And besides, does having a wife who works at home excuse husbands from being more involved in household work and family roles?

The long-term effects in terms of gender relations within the family cannot be truly evident until further evaluation and monitoring are done. What is necessary, at this point, is a continuous evaluation of teleworking from a gender perspective. At this early stage, it is all the more imperative to identify and develop indicators and benchmarks to track changes in gender relations as a result of teleworking.

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