Under the umbrella of the “Great Resignation” are millions of women who were knocked out of the workforce. The result? An ever-widening gender gap in employment.
According to the Washington Post, the first year of the pandemic saw 54 million women out of work. Of the women who lost jobs in 2020, almost 90% exited the labor force altogether, compared with around 70% of men. Many women work in unstable conditions without job security, regular hours, or benefits. In addition, women are more likely to take on more than their share of childcare, homeschooling, and eldercare. Pre-pandemic data shows that men held 62% of manager positions while women held 38%. One in five executives is a woman at the executive level. At the same time, fewer than one in thirty is a woman of color, revealing a more profound crevasse in the existing gender gap. The gains realized over the last decade could take nearly a generation to recover.
Beyond the statistics, what can you do about this as a business owner, manager, or team leader? Below are a few ideas, each with various ways to be implemented into your company culture.
Acknowledge What Exists
To change a problem, you must first identify it. Taking a closer look at the issue within your organization helps you know where to start, whether it’s with hiring, promoting, or developing employees to help alleviate the gender gap. Also, acknowledge that the pandemic didn’t suddenly cause the gap; it simply exacerbated it. Look deeper at what existed in your company pre-pandemic that may have contributed to the gap and set goals to fix that.
Culture change does not happen in a vacuum. Have a conversation with your leadership team and employees to understand an employee’s daily experience. For example, what is the experience of being a working mother and managing remote schooling or elder care? How are these challenges magnified for single parents and women of color? Consider appropriate ways to gather employee feedback, such as anonymous surveys, so that employees feel safe to speak their truth without impacting their day-to-day work lives.
Lead with Empathy
Burnout is real, and women at your organization may be experiencing it more acutely. In addition to burnout, women can feel judged as uncommitted or unfocused if a child enters the background of a Zoom call or needs to be picked up from school. Leading with empathy involves a greater awareness of the unconscious biases that impact our perceptions of our co-workers. With remote teams, you may have limited insight into what’s truly going on behind the scenes of your employees’ lives. Small changes, like email-protected nights and weekends, can help employees set work-life boundaries that even the playing field for all colleagues and can help eliminate a culture of “presenteeism.”
Assess and Adjust Your Policies
As the return to work unfolds, data show that men are more likely to be in the office while women become less visible to employers. Start reviewing your current family and medical leave policy and carefully monitor any new working policies to ensure women aren’t disadvantaged by including work-from-home policies or flexible schedules. Examine if there is a cultural barrier at your company that subtly discourages the use of flex-work schedules. Also, assess your recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retention practices to understand how they contribute to gender bias. Policy review not only protects your business, it’s also about creating a culture where these inclusive policies are the norm.
Double down on acknowledging the problem of pandemic-induced departure of women from the workforce and the non-pandemic reality of biases of women in the workplace. Pay particular attention to addressing inequities in the primary areas of talent management: attracting candidates, hiring employees, onboarding, developing talent, assessing performance, managing compensation and promotion, and retaining quality performers.
Experts say deliberate strategies, rather than vague concepts, are the key to ensuring hybrid workplaces don’t hold anyone back. Lee Ann Chernack, HR Consultant at Pacific Crest Group adds, “It’s important that leadership lives its values and acknowledges that everyone plays an important role in the success of the company is the best first place to start,” which affirms that what is good for greater gender equality is also good for the economy and society as a whole.
Contact Pacific Crest Group to help you examine your policies so that you can make a conscious effort to narrow the gender gap for your business.