Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) are major initiatives at most companies. But the pandemic threatens to roll back many gains made in this area.
“We could have an entire generation of women who are hurt,” said Betsey Stevenson, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, in “Pandemic Could Scar a Generation of Working Mothers” from the New York Times.
A recent survey shows women are nearly two times as likely as men to report they’ll leave their jobs in the next year because of dissatisfaction, reports Working Women in “Crappy Treatment During COVID Makes Women Twice as Likely as Men to Leave Their Job”.
Women with children take on most of the burden of schooling and childcare in the wake of closures. It's no surprise single parents take on 100% of the burden. But even women with supportive, engaged partners still handle the majority of childcare and schooling.
Reopening will not offer relief if schools and day care options stay closed. Without flexible work options, these women may be forced out of the labor market.
It's not only working mothers
While working mothers (especially single mothers) are particularly at risk, all women’s gains are potentially in jeopardy, reports Harvard Business Review in “Why the Crisis Is Putting Companies at Risk of Losing Female Talent”.
The good news is companies can take steps to keep women from being left behind.
What companies and leaders can do
Embracing alternate schedules, working from home, and providing extended paid leave are all good starts. As is asking employees about their concerns and really listening to the responses. Flexibility, understanding, and open communication are critical right now.
The HBR article also suggests these actions:
1. Pay Extra Mind to the Motherhood Penalty
Caregiving typically boosts a man’s reputations. However it diminishes a woman’s by causing doubts about her capabilities and commitment. In an office environment, women can control how much of their personal life they want to share. But that has changed now that our homes are our offices.
It’s critical to be aware of the different biases towards fathers and mothers, and be mindful about your judgements. If you’re a leader and also a parent yourself, share the challenges of juggling work and family right now.
2. Pare Down the Pressure
People are often more productive at home, research shows...but that research wasn’t done during school and childcare closures.
Pressuring people to push out as much work as possible risks alienating all your employees. It also means you’re not valuing or recognizing women with children at home.
“Contrary to conventional wisdom, women’s preference to ratchet back their careers is not the primary driver of highly educated women’s decisions to quit their careers. Rather, they are pushed out by workplaces that devalue their contributions and dismiss their needs,” reports HBR.
By prioritizing business needs and focusing on what really matters, leaders can set more reasonable expectations for employees. Asking for best effort on those priorities will get you much more engagement.
3. Run Virtual Meetings Equitably
Women may find themselves left out of important calls, which is devaluing. Leaders must consider if they’re including everyone who should have input, and direct your managers to do the same.
And—just like around a real conference table—virtual meeting facilitators must ask for input from attendees who haven't said much.
4. Keep Digital Spaces Inclusive
Virtual meetings allow for “invisible side conversations” via chats. Even if these chats are not purposefully exclusive or discriminatory, they can weaken women’s relationships and keep them from insights into important company issues. Leaders can request all conversation and input be shared with the group, not privately in chats.
Leaders can also encourage employees to consider inclusion in virtual social events. If you’re a leader, make sure you’re mindful of how much time you spend informally chatting with certain people.
By reminding managers and your teams that fostering your inclusive culture still stands—and by taking steps to make sure it’s being done—you show your female employees you value them...and it makes it more likely you will retain their talent.
For even more reading on the topic, check out "3 Ways to Advance Gender Equity as We Return to the Office".