Many job losses are present in female-dominated industries, and with child care programs still closed in many states, working mothers are taking on a role as full-time parents and teachers, along with their career.
Today we celebrate Women's Equality Day, which commemorates the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. While this day is an important reminder of the great strides in gender equality in the past century, the current global health crisis is threatening the role of women in the workplace.
So what can leaders do to support women and advance gender equality? Five female executives weigh in below.
1. Include equity as a part of your company's D&I initiatives
"As many leaders prioritize diversity and inclusion, equity should be top of mind," said Cindy Miller, chief executive officer at Stericycle. "You cannot create a diverse and inclusive business environment without ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and given equal access to opportunities and advancement. You must create an environment where individuals are equally recognized and rewarded for their unique strengths and contributions. Start by creating open lines of communication and feedback across the company to understand how you can do better. This includes reviewing historical company data to ensure you're closing gaps and taking the right action to create equitable change."
2. Ensure gender equality doesn't falter during the pandemic
"Women are more frequently being forced to work fewer hours or drop out of the workforce altogether because they're balancing work and caregiving responsibilities. By the time they rejoin the workforce, salaries will likely have dropped because of the economic impacts of the pandemic," said Tanya Jansen, co-founder at Beqom. "Equality can't wait. Now is the time for leaders to take action to avoid hurdles that could push gender equality back for decades. To implement transparent pay reporting, hiring, and promotion processes, to provide increased flexibility for working hours, and to even reevaluate rewards and benefits to help many women take on the psychological impact of being a 24/7 caregiver while maintaining a career."
3. Address the current child care burden on working women
"Many parents are struggling to find time for full-time jobs, child care, and education, and, unfortunately, working mothers are taking on the brunt of the burden," said Elizabeth Chrane, chief people officer at OneDigital. "Employers are also wondering how to strike the right balance of showing empathy, allowing for flexibility, and driving productivity in a time of economic crisis. The pressure and lack of options and support are causing many women to consider exiting the workforce. This could be a major setback for all of the recent advances in women's equality, and it's imperative that corporate leaders focus on more creative solutions."
4. Listen to employees' needs and take action to recognize them
"As many continue to work from home, it can be more challenging to be aware of the needs of employees in this new context. In many cases, women have taken on a full-time caregiving role on top of their professional position, so leaders must recognize that old structures and policies may not work in this new reality," said Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers. "To build and maintain a culture of equality, leaders must implement active listening systems to gauge the needs of remote employees operating in this new context. Working closely with team members at all levels will ensure that the right actions are implemented, including new policies and benefits that address the needs of today's workforce."
5. Help women empower women
While gender inequality in the workplace is not a problem that leaders can solve overnight, there are a variety of actions companies can take. According to Monti Becker Kelly, global head of business development, banking, financial services, and insurance at Sitel Group, "It's particularly important for female leaders to connect with one another and help empower other women in their organization to take paid leave when needed, ensure they are taking care of their own mental health, and lean on one another for support." Kelly says many women, especially working moms like herself, are experiencing similar pressures at work and at home during this time.
Now is the time for leaders to take initiative within their own companies to protect and foster the role of women in the workplace for the future.