March is Women’s History Month, and a good time to take a look at the state of women at work post-COVID. What new and unique challenges are women in the workplace facing today, and what can you do to better support them in their career goals?
What does the research say?
Many global research consultancies like McKinsey have studied the effect of the pandemic on women in the workplace. The Women in the Workplace 2021 report presents concerning results. During the past seven years, McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.org, has benchmarked the trajectory of women’s careers in the American workplace. And every year the percentage of men leaving the workforce was always slightly higher than women—until 2020.
The study explains: “The pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment. One in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers versus one in five men.” Working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women have experienced the most challenges. For example, 23 percent of women with children under 10 years old have considered leaving the workforce compared to 13 percent of men.
According to Pew Research Center, different levels of education play a significant role in this mass exodus. Their study of workplace attrition between Q3 2019 and Q3 2021 shows that, overall, the number of women ages 25 and older in the US labor force has fallen 1.3 percent compared to the 1.1 percent decline of men. This disparity widens for women who are not high school graduates and women with a high school diploma only, with 12.8 percent and 6.0 percent leaving the workplace respectively, compared to 4.9 percent and 1.7 percent of similarly educated men.
What can be done?
The data is especially concerning given the many years it has taken women to forge their way in the workplace. The capacity for progress lies with leaders who are committed to empowering women in their organizations. Here are some practical ideas for how employers can commit to better serving their female employees today.
Provide flexible work polices.
Everyone benefits from flexibility. Remote and hybrid work arrangements give new opportunities for women who need to care for young children or aging parents. Flexible hours allow women to work around family commitments and during their most productive windows. Finally, incentive programs that allow for part-time work in the short-term are a creative way to encourage women to gradually rejoin the workforce.
Explore new benefit and compensation options.
Many employers are considering on-site childcare, company-run summer camps, and even child-friendly workplaces. If these options are not possible for your organization, providing childcare discounts or subsidized benefits creates new opportunities for women who have chosen to leave the workforce due to steep daycare costs. Greater financial freedom in the form of higher pay is another way to alleviate the burden of childcare expenses.
Focus on mental health.
Engaging and retaining women is important, but ensuring they are thriving is critical. Employee resource groups and free or subsidized counseling are practical ways to offer women the support they need for optimal well-being. Mentorship, coaching, and sponsorship programs are effective approaches to help women—especially women of color—overcome the “broken rung” barrier that keeps them from reaching senior leadership roles.
One of the most compelling findings of McKinsey’s recent report is that employees with female managers are more likely to say that their manager has supported and helped them over the past year. Empowering the women in your organization trickles down. Women are necessary for your organization to achieve its mission.
At Brighter Strategies, we understand that your employees are seeking support for career growth and self-actualization at work. We are committed to partnering with you to create the healthy systems, strategies, and leadership mindsets. Contact us today to learn more.