October 7, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 42—Swipe for face masks, and workplace equality

Instead of swiping right for your next date, you can now swipe left or right to let local researchers and public health professionals know whether someone near you is wearing a face mask, or not. An initiative of the Regenstrief Institute, MaskCount is a web-based app that allows users to anonymously document the number of people wearing, or not wearing, face coverings. Its purpose? To help scientists better understand local outbreaks and inform policy decisions based on real-time data. In the app, users can see where they are on a map as they walk around. If they come across a person or group of people wearing or not wearing masks, they can swipe left for “no mask” and right for “mask,” then select how many people they saw. The app is available across platforms and does not allow people to take pictures or enter any identifying information. Leaders of the initiative say users can enter information as frequently as they choose and consult data from others around them to see mask wearing trends in the area. Regenstrief President and CEO Peter Embi says MaskCount is not about reporting good or bad behavior. It’s about documenting what is happening to help generate scientific evidence that can help researchers understand how to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

As Americans continue to try to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, researchers are studying the long-lasting impact of the virus on every aspect of our world, from health and education to the workplace. American women have made strides in the workplace over the past half-century in terms of earnings, employment and careers, but the COVID-19 pandemic risks undoing many of these gains. Stephanie M.H. Moore, a lecturer at the IU Kelley School of Business, said one group of women at particular risk are those in professional fields. While fortunate enough to have quality jobs, she says many are being forced by the increased demands of child care to reduce working hours – or to stop working altogether. Mothers have always handled more child care than fathers have, but it has become further lopsided since stay-at-home orders began earlier this year. In fact, more than one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely, according to a study of 317 companies released in September. But Moore says companies have the ability – and duty – to prevent many of these negative outcomes. The first thing companies should do, she says, is survey their employees to determine what they need. The results can guide the types of policies that could best address workers’ unique concerns and situations. Whatever management changes are made, it’s imperative that businesses communicate clearly and often with all employees and set appropriate and reasonable workloads, she says. And increased flexibility is something all women need right now. Moore says flexible work can mean many things, such as allowing employees to continue working from home even after others return to the office, helping them balance hours and scheduling key meetings and other duties at particular times. But it’s not just about providing flexibility to women, Moore says. Men need flexibility too so they can handle more of child care duties – including for a new baby – allowing women to spend more time doing their professional jobs. Moore says companies need to understand how gender bias further disadvantages women during times of crisis. Moore says the best and most important strategy for ensuring women thrive and continue to make gains in business – and society – is to increase representation and inclusion at all levels of planning and decision-making.