If you’re anything like me, you’ve kept a finger on the pulse, or at least set a google alert about what’s happening to women in the workforce over the past few months. What I’ve been reading is not only defeating, but it’s terrifyingly unsurprising. Nearly four times as many women left the workforce in September than men – that number totaled almost 900,000 women. Causes of this have been directly related to the ongoing pandemic – the closures of childcare centers and schools across the nation and the fact that women compose the majority of the essential workforce base.
And as the pandemic reaches epic proportions, it can only get worse. Factors that have further aggravated the situation include all of the prior existing inequities: women overall still earn 81 cents to every dollar a man makes*, suffer from the Motherhood Penalty, and are often the first in heterosexual pairings to step away from their jobs to care for their children because they aren’t the breadwinner.
So, what’s to be done about this mass exodus of women from the workforce and this dialing back of gender equality? At Women in the Boardroom, we put our heads together to start brainstorming some possible solutions to combat this reversal of workforce progress for women.
Diversify Your Workforce
As we heavily emphasize in our, mission, and communications, diversity is essential! Companies perform better financially when they emphasize diversity and create a diverse workforce. That’s just a fact. So, when women are disappearing from the workforce at an alarming rate, companies and organization stand to lose; therefore, it’s important for those in leadership positions to make a concerted effort to hold onto the women on their teams.
It’s also critical to keep in mind that the working mothers on your team may be more susceptible to burnout. These women are responsible for not only juggling their at-work projects but also balancing the lives and directly managing the education of their children in addition to all of the home labor.
Be Flexible and Inclusive
So, what are leaders doing today to successfully keep women in the workplace? They’re being flexible, innovate, creative, and most importantly – supportive. We recently spoke with a CMO and Women in the Boardroom member who told us that she has become very adaptable with her staff’s schedule, specifically during the pandemic.
Aside from a few standing weekly meetings, she acknowledges that her team wouldn’t be able to manage their at-home lives and a traditional 9-5 schedule. So, she’s aware that Amanda may be working on a project at 9pm and be absent for a few hours throughout the day as she tends to her children’s Zoom schooling or that Mathew has to balance his schedule with his wife’s, so Matthew may not be immediately able to respond to emails or requests while he manages the kids during that time.
This approach is not only effective, but it’s also empathetic. It’s important to exhibit this type of emotional intelligence as a leader and to illustrate to your employees that they are individuals with distinct needs to be successful.
Adjust Your Expectations
Another approach we’re seeing CEO’s take, is that of adjusting performance expectations. I’m sure you’ve heard the word “unprecedented” more times than you can count this year, but it’s true.
These truly are unprecedented times, and the expectation that anyone can function under them as they normally would with the anxiety of you or your loved ones being or becoming ill, the lack of social interaction, financial insecurity, the ongoing civil and social unrest, the weight of ongoing election woes, and whatever other personal burdens they may be carrying, is simply unrealistic.
In fact, many universities have adopted a pass/fail system for students for the duration of the pandemic. Of course, I’m not suggesting you throw all performance criteria out the window, but I’m proposing that you may approach an upcoming performance review with the understanding that it’s been a pretty tough year, and this year shouldn’t leave a black mark on anyone’s performance record. If they’ve been a quality employee before the start of the pandemic – they’ll surely be a quality employee post-pandemic.
A salary increase or title change shouldn’t be tied to a few months of underperformance.
Expand Your Pipeline
Finally, when the pandemic does conclude, it’s important to make adjustments to your recruitment process and to establish a pipeline with a strong emphasis on women. Additionally, consider how you might restructure your work environment moving forward. Many CEOs don’t believe their offices will ever be at full capacity again, that they’ll hire entirely remote positions moving forward, and that they’ll make space for more flexible work-from-home options. All of these approaches can help us to better support women and working families during and after the pandemic.
If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, Reach out to me directly! Leslie Dukker Doty, CEO, Women in the Boardroom.
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