MindSpring Marcus: Impacts of COVID-19 on Working Womenby MindSpring Marcus on June 1, 2022 in MindSpring Marcus
Hey there! It’s Marcus here, back with a very important topic to discuss— women in the workplace. Unfortunately, in recent years, I’ve seen attrition on my own team and lost valuable employees. Once I noticed this pattern was affecting more women than men in my office, I decided to figure out what was causing it. After digging into the research, this problem affects many more people than just those on my team and is part of a much larger, more pervasive issue within our society as a whole. I’d like to share my findings with you, so all of us in leadership positions can improve the workplace for our female-identifying colleagues.
I know what you’re thinking— Marcus, as a man, what do you know about issues women experience at work? And while that’s a fair question, I’d like to say this: as a leader in my company’s IT department, it’s my job to make sure my employees are being heard, seen, and valued. I’ll never truly understand the unique challenges women face, but it’s time men, especially those in leadership roles like myself, stand up for gender equality in the workplace. After over two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we now have research showing the pandemic has negatively affected working women to a greater extent than it has men.
Women are Feeling More Pressure at Work and at Home Than Men Are
Even though we’ve known for decades about workplace gender disparities like the wage gap, the pandemic has brought some new and concerning trends to light when it comes to working women, involving burnout rates, childcare responsibilities, and diversity and inclusion. Of course, the disruptions to work schedules and childcare have negatively impacted working fathers as well. However, working mothers have taken on more childcare responsibilities and are more likely to reduce their hours or leave their jobs entirely in response to these disruptions.
Deloitte surveyed around 400 working women across nine countries to show how this demographic has been impacted by the pandemic. Their research found:
● 82% of women surveyed said their lives have been negatively disrupted by the pandemic. Of those women, 70% are concerned those disruptions will limit their career growth
● 65% now have more responsibility for household chores
● 33% said their workloads have increased due to the pandemic
● 58% of those with children reported added childcare responsibilities
● 53% of those with children reported home-schooling/education responsibilities
● 46% reported feeling a need to always be available from a work perspective (i.e., online at “off” hours, responding to emails immediately). Of those women, 45% said they feel overwhelmed and 48% said their physical health has suffered due to feeling they always need to be available
For many working women, the pandemic is upsetting their work-life balance, affecting their physical and mental health, and causing them to question their current and long-term career goals. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the research.
Main Areas of Inequality
A study done by the Pew Research Center found that among adults ages 25 and up who have no education beyond high school, more women have left the labor force than men since the beginning of the pandemic.
While women who do have education past high school have not left the work force at a greater rate than men, these women, especially those with children, were still under extreme pressure at work and at home during the pandemic. These women were stressed, anxious, and frustrated because they didn’t leave their jobs. While they were more likely to be able to work from home and keep their jobs, caregiving responsibilities were falling on women at a disproportionate rate.
So, why are there more women than men quitting their jobs during the pandemic when we look at the less educated group? Well, these results partly show that women are overrepresented in certain health care and service industry roles that were put on pause at the beginning of the pandemic. Although women overall are more likely than men to be able to work remotely, they are disproportionately working jobs that require them to work in-person.
Also, when we look at corporate America, research from McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace Study shows women are less likely to receive promotions to managerial roles—86 women out of every 100 men, to be exact. At this rate, it’s very difficult for companies to lay a foundation for sustained progress at more senior levels.
Additionally, the progress in representation for women overall hasn’t translated to gains for women of color. Women of color continue to lose ground at every step on the ladder—between entry level and C-suite roles, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75 percent. As a result, women of color account for only 4 percent of C-suite leaders, leaving them severely underrepresented in executive positions.
Nevertheless, Women Persist
The same McKinsey study also found despite all the added stress and exhaustion, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. White women in this group are also more likely to be allies to women of color.
When companies support employee well-being and prioritize DEI, employees are happier, less burned out, and less likely to consider leaving their jobs. Yet the achievement of women in these pursuits is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies.
Overlooking this work hurts women, who are investing more time and energy in these priorities than men. It also hurts companies and all employees because progress can’t be made on undervalued efforts. Companies risk losing leaders they need now and in the future, and organizations will struggle to build inclusive workplaces if this work isn’t prioritized.
How to Empower Men to Empower Women
It’s important we create a healthy dialogue where men can be included if we want to advance equality in the workplace and in our society as a whole. By giving boys and men tools to challenge gender norms and change their behaviors and biases (whether they’re implicit or explicit), we can empower men. It’s not enough to enlighten women and expect men to follow, since both men and women are integral parts of the system that is gender. If we want change, all of us have to work together.
So, it’s important we make resources available to men, too. Because men still hold the majority of powerful, decision-making positions around the world, such as in our economies, media, academia, and our governments, it’s imperative we involve men in the process of gender equality. The inclusion of all humans, regardless of ability, age, gender, race, or ethnicity, is necessary to have a future which is bright and can reap the benefits of diversity. Men, especially in professional leadership positions, have an amazing opportunity to encourage and create equity in the workplace.
5 Steps Employers Can Take to Help Women (and All Employees)
The research suggests companies need to do more to prevent under-representation and women’s feelings of exhaustion. To drive change, it’s necessary to invest deeply in all aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This starts with taking steps to ensure women of diverse identities are well represented. Companies also need to create a workplace culture that fully embraces the benefits of diversity—one where women, and all employees, feel comfortable bringing their unique ideas, perspectives, and experiences to the table.
Although there are no quick fixes to these challenges, there are steps companies can and should take. Here are five key areas where companies should focus or expand their efforts.
1) Make work more sustainable
A sustainable work schedule is essential to helping all employees facing burnout get through the ongoing pandemic, especially those who are trying to balance childcare, household responsibilities, and work. To make a maintainable schedule, leaders need to look at productivity and performance expectations, goals, and projects’ scopes prior to COVID-19 and ask if they’re still realistic.
2) Encourage work-life balance for employees
COVID-19 has made work-life balance more of a challenge for some, causing many employees to feel like they are “always on.” To reestablish boundaries between life and work hours, leaders may need to establish set time frames for meetings, put policies in place for responding to emails outside typical business hours, and improve communication about work hours and availability within teams. Leaders may also try modeling balance between work and play in their own lives, sending a message to employees that it’s not necessary to overwork themselves.
3) Reassess performance review criteria
Performance reviews are an important tool in every organization, but considering all the ways the pandemic has changed how we work, criteria set before COVID-19 may no longer be applicable. By reassessing performance measures set before the pandemic, employers can assure those standards are still attainable for their employees in this new era of work.
4) Take steps to minimize gender and racial bias
To ease the biases that women are up against, especially women of color, companies need to make sure that employees are aware of them. It’s important to track outcomes for promotions and raises by gender—as well as the breakdown of layoffs and furloughs by gender—to make sure women and men are being treated fairly. Most importantly, give employees opportunities to give feedback. By doing so, you may hear from minority group voices that would otherwise be muffled.
5) Adjust policies and programs to better support employees
Companies should consider offering benefits that better address their employees’ biggest challenges and allocate funding and resources to programs employees find most valuable. For example, offering the option to work from home, more paid time off, a few free “mental health days” each month, or resources for childcare and homeschooling might improve an employee’s sense of work-life balance. Providing benefits that fully support your employees, in work life and home life, shows you value them as whole people.
It may be a long time before we fully understand the effects of COVID-19 on our society and workplaces. But one thing is for sure: we can use everything we’ve learned throughout the pandemic so far to improve the ways in which we live and work together.
To move forward, companies need to address staff burnout, recognize, and reward women leaders who are driving progress, and do the deep cultural work required to create a workplace where all women feel valued, and diversity is embraced.
MindSpring is committed to providing equal opportunities to everyone, highlighting each person’s unique strengths and capabilities. Whether you’re a business or jobseeker, if you’re looking for an organization striving to improve the workplace for women— and all employees— reach out to us today.