The COVID-19 pandemic created a year unlike any other. The physical and emotional tolls on people across the globe were monumental, and the consequences on global, national, and individual levels have been life-altering. However, one of the less talked-about yet dire consequences is the pandemic’s impact on women specifically: their lives, their careers, and their futures.
When school and daycare closures occurred during 2020, parents were left with questions. Who would care for the children during the day? Who would be responsible for making sure school-aged children were educated effectively, whether taught virtually or homeschooled? Who would cover the multiplying day-to-day chores that result from working and learning from home, such as more laundry and more cooking?
For the majority of families, the answer was women. Four times more women than men exited the workforce in 2020. Women became unemployed during the pandemic due to a lack of childcare at twice the rate than men. And four to five times more women than men arranged for their work hours to be decreased in 2020 due to caring for young children.
Additionally, women of color, including Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women, face challenges at an even higher percentage than white women. On average, women of color are more likely to work lower-paying jobs, be single parents, and face obstacles connected to racial prejudices or biases. These statistics combined with the toll of the pandemic created a deep rut that many women of color are still struggling to emerge from.
Clearly, the vast majority of women have felt the impact of COVID-19 deeply.
Washington Post ran an article in July 2020 titled, “Coronavirus child-care crisis will set women back a generation.” A setback of this size could be devastating for both women individually and the workforce as a whole. With this in mind, employers have a choice to make: will their companies return to a traditional work model, or will they recognize the challenges that women are facing and work with them to create viable work models that provide flexibility and opportunity?
For those businesses ready to attract and retain valuable women employees, we applaud you! Your business will benefit. Here are a few tips to get started:
First things first -- change cannot occur without the realization that change is needed! Take the time to research the impact of COVID-19 on women. Read about the unique challenges that women face in the workplace daily. Talk to women employees and listen to their experiences and struggles throughout their years in the workforce. Once you’ve done your research, acknowledge where change is necessary in your business.
Prioritize performance over the 9-to-5
Both men and women struggle to balance work life with personal life, and this tension was amplified during the pandemic. With women frequently handling the bulk of childcare, it is important to offer a work schedule that is flexible rather than rigid. Flexibility could allow for daycare drop offs, caring for sick children, quality maternity leave, and more. A work environment that celebrates performance and productivity more than hours spent at work is more likely to attract women, particularly mothers.
Offer representation and mentorship
If women employees don’t see other women in all levels and positions in your company, they’re less likely to aspire to higher-paying or managerial positions within your business. In order to retain women long-term, it’s crucial that diverse women are represented in all types of company roles. In addition, consider investing in mentorship programs for women! Intentional mentorship has the ability to raise the level of ambition and leadership among women in your company.
Right now, business leaders have the unique opportunity to set themselves apart by being strategically inclusive to women. Implementing the tips above places businesses at a greater advantage to attract women than those with more traditional business models. And having a strong representation of women will boost your business! Companies with a significant number of women employees are often characterized by the following:
A more encouraging culture
Frequently women are more naturally nurturing, which in the work environment translates into a culture of encouragement. Those who are encouraged are more likely to be consistent, optimistic, and productive.
A stronger team environment
Women are statistically more inclined toward community than men. In a work setting, this can produce a stronger sense of camaraderie!
A more efficient work model
Many women -- certainly moms -- are gifted with the ability to multitask well. The ability to manage a large number of clients, projects, products, etc., at one time is extremely efficient and beneficial to companies.
As companies transition to work models that are more equally conducive to both women and men, they’ll find that their teams, cultures, and bottom lines grow exponentially. Women are an invaluable part of the workforce, and businesses will benefit greatly from strategically working to include women in their teams and management.
Domonique Townsend is the CEO and founder of We Optimize Work, a company dedicated to helping business executives create human-centered work approaches that increase engagement, productivity, and belonging for women in the workplace. For more information about how Women Who Lead can impact your company, visit www.weoptimizework.com or email Domonique at email@example.com.