Creating an equitable future for women in the workplace
Last month, women’s labor force participation hit a 33-year low, proving the pandemic, remote work and lay-offs have disproportionately impacted women workers. This is a big problem as gender work equality continues to get pushed to the back burner and a current report projects that it will take another 257 years to close the gender pay gap if we keep doing what we’re doing -- or not doing.
As businesses look ahead into another year of remote work, they need to uniquely support women – especially mothers and caregivers who are juggling multiple roles in their workday. Their outside obligations are different than some of their male coworkers and they need to be given the flexibility and support to get their work done without quitting being the solution.
Below are some tips and insights for leaders looking to get this right and engage a critical demographic of the workforce.
Call it out and fix it.
Organizations and business leaders must think proactively about retaining their working mothers rather than putting the onus on these employees to advocate for themselves. “Leaders can show up authentically and empathetically in these conversations by publicly recognizing the stress that’s being put on working parents currently. Say it clearly, name it as an urgent issue and treat it as such,” recommends Nani Vishwanath, people team manager at Limeade. “It’s important for company leadership to explicitly recognize the challenges that women in today’s workforce are facing. Without this public recognition and ownership, mothers may feel like they are inadequate or should put on a façade that they’re managing, when truly they are suffering.”
Ask the tough questions.
Vishwanath also recommends digging deep on the reality of the employee experience. Organizations should also ask themselves tough questions: Do employees feel safe to share that their current workload is not sustainable? Do employees feel truly empowered to dictate their schedule and availability? Are decisions made when some employees are available, yet others are not? Are employees empowered to speak up when they feel like their experience is different based on their gender? If the answer is no, what are the cultural norms and values that need to be interrogated?
All parents have chartered stressful situations due to the pandemic. However, women have been shown to disproportionately carry that load. It’s time companies take the whole person into account vs. assuming their personal obligations are not their problem. To support working mothers you have to understand what they need. “That means taking a regular pulse of working mothers’ needs and challenges, supporting flexible schedules, providing mental health resources and encouraging them to use the resources. Leaders can also create employee resource groups to help working mothers feel supported, as these groups foster community and a sense of belonging,” shares Jennie Yang, director of talent transformation at 15Five.
Ask and listen to what women tell you they need to succeed.
It took a woman being in a position of power for the first-ever in the world miscarriage leave policy to be passed by New Zealand as a law. Women know what they need to be able to stay engaged and committed to their roles on the job. Ask them. Listen to them.
“Providing multiple channels for communication and feedback are essential. Conduct an engagement survey, provide an anonymous feedback form, set up an executive ask-me-anything Slack channel, host executive listening sessions, or leverage feedback software that allows people to communicate in a safe environment. As feedback is surfaced, group them into themes, share the themes back to the organization, and create an action plan to address the issues,” advises Yang.
Role model and advocate for using flexible work policies.
Having flexible work policies means nothing if employees aren’t aware of how they work. Even more so, having policies are pointless if leaders aren’t role modeling using them and advocating for their staff to do the same, Without that, you’ll have employees piling up their vacation days but racking up medical issues due to stress and burnout. “Leaders should specifically address managers to make sure that employees are not penalized for caregiving, and equip managers with tools to adjust their team’s workload and schedule accordingly,” cautions Vishwanath.
Proactively implement policies and provide resources.
Organizations should also prepare to be proactive in process-design around these changing times. For example, a company can create templates and toolkits for managers to talk through work schedules and personal well-being with their teams. They can also set the HR team up to share details on the company-wide flexible schedule policies, easily accessible documentation on leave policies and important benefits, and more.
“The impacts of Covid-19 on working mothers are huge. We cannot simply wait for this to blow over and hope that we’ll continue to make the strides that we have been working towards in terms of gender equity – instead, what we’re seeing is a direct impact of gender inequity, and even more so for communities of color,” warns Vishwanath. This year is a critical but also advantageous year to finally get it right and fully support women on the job the way they want and need to be supported.