COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the American workplace. Employees are dealing with burnout, working from home, and dealing with childcare on a massive scale. Companies are seeing an unfortunate exodus of women in the workplace, and it’s undoing decades of gender equality work. How can your organization support women in the workplace right now? We teamed up with Ines and Leah from Skylyte to understand this very topic.
Women, COVID, And The Workplace
A few weeks ago, the news was released that nearly 3 million U.S. women had left the workforce in the past year. Working women have had to make some unfortunate choices about their careers to take care of their families.
“In a time where someone’s got to be with the kids, people are doing the calculus in their own homes of whose career has more potential.”
Unfortunately, there are many disparities impacting women, such as the expense of childcare, lower wages, and limited leadership options. Every family is stuck doing the mental math. If only one person can stay home and help with childcare, it usually falls to the women.
“This is where data on gender disparities come into the very personal experience of people, women making the determination that if we can’t both stay my career has less financial promise so I will be the one to step out.”
Women And Extra Household Work
Many women are dealing with extra work since the start of the pandemic. According to research conducted by Lean In, “80% of mothers have taken on more household work since the pandemic started.”
All of the work that women are doing outside and inside the home can lead to exhaustion. This burden is not shared equally among men and women. For example, Lean In noted that women do 173 minutes of housework daily while, on average, men do 71 minutes.
Women Of Color, Work, And Burnout
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unemployment rate for African American women age 16+ in Q4 2020 was 8.9% and 8.8% for Hispanic/Latina women. The national average for women’s unemployment during this same time was 6.3%, and the national average was 6.5%.
It’s important to shine a spotlight on women of color when discussing gender disparities. Taking an intersectional approach to this conversation helps you understand that women of color are dealing with issues like:
- Worse access to leadership positions when compared to their colleagues.
- Microaggressions and unconscious bias from coworkers.
- Overrepresentation in jobs that pay less like jobs in the service sector.
What Teams Can Do To Support Women In The Workplace
So, what are the solutions? Gender disparity isn’t going to go away overnight, but here are some practical solutions that employers can use to support working women right now.
Ask Women What Support They Need
“Are we asking each other, how are you? What do you need? What would be helpful?”
The first step to helping the women at your company is by asking them what support they need from you. You might not be able to give them every ounce of support they need, but you would be surprised with what you can do for them. Check-in with your team regularly, and get to know what’s happening with their life. These check-ins will build a bond with your team members and help you lead them.
Proactively Offer Up Helpful Solutions To The Women In Your Workforce
Are you proactively offering help, or are you waiting for your team members to come to you? Having a dialogue with your boss isn’t easy. If you notice something is off with your team, lead the dialogue to fix it. As a leader, your employees follow your example. Reach out first to take the pressure off your team.
Get Creative With Job Requirements
If you are flexible, you’ll find that there is often a better fix than having women leave the workforce altogether.
“People are their best witness for what they need, what kind of support, is it flexibility? Is it financial resources? Is it the ability to drop down hours for a certain period of time without penalty? Have the organization proactively bring those options up for job sharing or creative fixes.”
Before the women at your company quit, consider ways to drop their hours or get more flexible on when work is completed. If you can hold their full-time position without penalty, this will help your team dramatically in the long run.
Recognize The Business Benefits Of Diversity
“Right now is the time to recognize that it hurts businesses in the bottom line when you lose diversity and you lose women. You are losing insight into your customers no matter what way you want to slice it, no matter what industry you’re in. You’re not going to do as well if you go back to a male dominated workforce.”
If your company wants to invest in diversity, you have to understand the business benefits of diversity. Organizations that value diversity have bigger market shares, amazing ideas, and insights into their customer base that they couldn’t obtain otherwise.
Align Your Benefits With The Diversity You Want In Your Workforce
Many organizations found that their benefits needed a lot of restructuring in 2020. Many company benefits pre-COVID were based on fancy corporate lunches, gyms, and other things that don’t make much sense right now. When organizations started working from home, many of these benefits went away. If your organization hasn’t taken a look at better benefits, now is the time.
“There’s an opportunity for companies who are rethinking their benefits to align those with what would allow them to maintain the diversity that they have in their company. By doing this, we can honor the women, and the women of color, that are in our ranks.”
Here are a few examples of benefits that could help your team right now:
- Childcare and caregiving subsidies
- House cleaning stipends
- Family meal boxes
- Home gym equipment
- Mental healthcare
At the same time, talk to the women on your staff. Before implementing new benefits, see what your team needs to be successful right now.
Support Women In The Workplace: How Can We Bring Women Back To The Workplace Post-COVID?
As we think about a post-COVID world, we need to prepare to bring women who have exited the workforce back to work. Here are some great tips from the Skylyte team about how to support women in the workplace by bringing them back.
Focus On Rehiring
There are many places to get your employees. If you had women leave the workplace in the last year, consider reaching out to them. Give them the support they need and see if you can find a spot for them on the team again. If you need to ramp up your hiring process, rehiring is a great way to fill roles quickly. Past employees already know your company culture and department, so they onboard quickly.
Educate Hiring Managers
When producing job descriptions, get clarity on what you want from candidates. Ask for only the most necessary requirements, provide detailed salary information, and recruit in diverse places.
Women who have dropped out of the workforce are bound to have some gaps in their resumes. Hiring managers are often gatekeepers to getting these resumes seen.
“The kinds of skills that are embedded in running homes and being the CFO and COO of a house can absolutely be really salient for workplaces.”
If you want to support women in the workplace, you need to educate your hiring managers. Train them to spot amazing candidates and look beyond the resume gaps that often trip them up. Train managers to ask more thoughtful questions during the hiring process.
Revisit Your Onboarding Process
It’s no surprise that we care about employee onboarding at WorkBright. Onboarding is the first impression people get of how you treat your employees. Consider how you can create a smooth, remote process for women trying to get back to work. Give women time to understand all the forms instead of putting a huge packet of paperwork in front of them and giving them three hours to do it.
As women enter the workforce again, they’ll need to ease into it. Make sure that you are providing realistic expectations for the first 90 days at work.
Create Mentorship Programs Or Employee Resource Groups
Mentorship programs and employee resource groups are fantastic ways to connect your employees. Help your women get connected to leaders and employees inside and outside of their department. If you’re employing someone new to your company, she’ll might need the support after being out of work during the pandemic.
Create A Culture That Thrives On Work/Life Balance
As women return to work, they’ll probably need to adjust their home life to fit work in. If you want women to be a larger part of your company in the future, find ways to improve work/life balance now. At the start of the pandemic, many employees started working longer hours. Working women who left the workplace cannot come back to this environment. Put guardrails in place to create a stronger work/life balance for your team.
Focus Energy On Systemic Issues That Got Us Here
“Let’s not forget the systemic issues that got us into this. Breaking down our healthcare systems. Having three million women leave the workforce in a matter of months, kind of walking back what’s been gained over generations in gender in the workplace. Let’s also tackle the big questions.”
As an employer, you might not have the biggest impact on the systemic issues that got us where we are today. You and your employees can rally behind important local and national legislation that focuses on increased access to childcare/healthcare and improvements to pay for women. You can also make small-scale changes to your organization and how you handle childcare and healthcare help for your team. Take a look at the salaries on your team. Is there a massive difference in pay for women? If so, how can you best close that gap so that women get the pay they deserve?
Conclusion: Supporting Working Women Is A No Brainer
Women have done amazing things for the workforce. They bring a unique perspective to every department, and their insight improves the bottom line for many organizations. Unfortunately, we’ve taken many steps back in the last year, but this doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Support women in the workplace so that we can all work together and continue to thrive.
Thanks To Our Experts: Leah And Ines From Skylyte
We wanted to give a special thanks to the two experts we interviewed to write this piece on supporting women in the workplace. Leah and Ines, the co-founders of Skylyte.
About Dr. Leah Weiss: Leah has 10+ years of experience partnering with companies and universities (Google, Stanford, the VA, HopeLab) on compassion and burnout. She is a founding faculty member of Stanford’s “Compassion Cultivation Program,” conceived by the Dalai Lama, and is a Lecturer at Stanford GSB. She is the author of the book, How We Work. She holds a Bachelors’s from Stanford and a Ph.D. from Boston College.
About Ines Gramegna: Ines spent close to 4 years in management consulting at McKinsey and 4 years in behavior change and adult education. She has experience working across 3 continents with top teams, large companies, and startups (as an advisor and operator.) She is a trained coach and holds degrees from LSE (BSc Economics/Politics) and Stanford (MBA/MA Ed).