The global Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on working women. According to CBS, nearly three million women left the U.S labor force over the past year. The simultaneous and immediate shift to remote work and remote learning upset the delicate balance between professional and home life that many women had learned to deftly manage over the years.
It comes as no surprise that many women bear the family responsibilities, and those same women face obstacles at work as a result of that caregiving. According to CNBC, men working remotely with children were promoted three times more than women with children in 2020. While men were getting promoted, women were pulled to support and help their children with distance learning.
Adjusting to a remote world added challenges for women on top of the already existing ones. Some women found themselves in roles that couldn't be done effectively remotely and, faced with limited child care options, were forced to step away. Others found barriers in how their employers allowed them to function in this reality, and the resulting mental burden led them to resign. Even those who haven't left the workforce yet also report that they continue to reevaluate how they view work in the greater context of their lives.
In the tech space, in particular, this disturbing trend has the potential to derail ongoing efforts around women in the industry. Only about 25 percent of technology jobs are held by women. Over the years, many organizations have attempted to grow the number of women working in technology through different initiatives and programs; however, the current circumstances exasperated by the pandemic have worked against these attempts as the number of women the industry continues to dip. Leadership within organizations now, more than ever, needs to prioritize the needs of their employees, especially women.
To encourage women to return to the workforce, and to retain the women currently working, organizations will need to actively create and maintain a flexible and inclusive working environment--one with the needs of women at the forefront. Leaders and organizations that truly care for employees and want to drive for success for women can consider a few things to create the change necessary.
1. Give flexibility beyond 9 to 5.
Women job-seekers are consistently reporting that flexibility is a key consideration in deciding which employers to pursue. Employers should approach flexibility with a lens that goes beyond just flexible hours and work locations. It's important to also build flexibility into job structure and role design. Leaders should be thinking about how to create room for individuals to achieve results by measuring outcomes rather than the amount of time spent on a task or at a desk.
2. Equip employees with the technology they love.
It's become resoundingly clear that in this remote and hybrid work environment, technology can either serve to engage and enable workers or frustrate them. Employees who have the choice to use the tech tools that they are the most comfortable with will be able to do their best work. Putting the right tech in the hands of workers removes barriers, eliminates inefficiencies, and provides people with the opportunity to deliver great outcomes--ultimately growing careers and employee loyalty.
3. Create spaces for conversation, education, and support.
The importance of deliberately building a sense of community and connection has grown as the pandemic has isolated workers from one another. Companies should facilitate ways for women looking for more connection and support with their colleagues.
Sponsoring informal Zoom chats or connecting for virtual coffee can be one way to create space for conversation. Employee resource groups can also create a supportive network of like-minded individuals and can contribute to a sense of belonging to the organization. Additionally, leaders and managers in the organization should be provided with training and education on how to support, engage, and truly connect with all members of their teams.
4. Keep an eye on the whole employee experience.
Survey your teams to discover gaps in the employee experience. Follow those surveys up with detailed inquiries, and then take action. From a benefits perspective, traditional employee assistance plans are now only a starting point. A bright light has been shone on the need for mental health support and care.
Options for supporting caregivers have also blossomed--consider things like parental leave policies, backup child care support, as well as elder care assistance. It's also a great time to formally check pay practices, policies, and procedures to evaluate for bias in organizational systems. And don't forget the importance of career development and progression. Employees today want to see the path to their future and have supportive guidance along the way.
Never before have organizations had such a prime opportunity to create a "new normal" in the workplace. The most successful employers will be those that work hard to meet their employee needs and truly humanize the work experience. Let today be the first step forward to creating, supporting, and celebrating a more gender diverse workplace.