International Women’s Day: How Employers Can Support Women at Work
Women are leaving the workforce at an alarming rate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and companies could lose out on a generation of strong female leaders and the cultural and financial success that they bring to the table. This International Women’s Day, it’s important for employers to celebrate women’s contribution to their organizations while also addressing the barriers that women are currently facing in the workplace.
How Has COVID-19 Impacted Women in the Workplace?
A 2020 Women in the Workplace study found that up to 2 million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving the workforce altogether as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. More recently, Fortune reported that 275,000 women left the U.S. labor force in January 2021 alone, despite the availability of vaccines on the horizon.
So, what specific factors are causing women to leave the workforce or minimize their roles in leadership? The study mentioned the following:
- Burnout. Without flexibility at work and clear parameters of when the workday ends, women feel pressure to be available to work at all hours. With the stress of their families’ health compounding the worry of losing their job, the study found that women feel like they can’t keep up and must always be “on.”
- Balancing Home Responsibilities. Women are feeling the crushing weight of responsibilities from balancing home, work, and childcare more profoundly than men. This is especially true for single caregivers who rely on their income alone to support their families. The study also pointed out that women are more likely to worry that their performance is being negatively judged because of their caregiving responsibilities—say, for example, when their child interrupts an important video call or meeting.
- Existing Disparities and Disproportionate Impact. COVID-19 has affected Latinas, Black women, Asian women, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities in very different ways, so it’s important to note that no single experience is the same. Women of color face even more existing challenges in career advancement than white women. The study cited that “for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted.”
How Can Employers Help Support Women in the Workplace?
Obviously, employers don’t have control over the pandemic, but there are steps they can take to ease the strain of additional pressure women are facing and help them stay and thrive in the workforce. Here are ways employers can celebrate their female team members while also combatting both pandemic-related and systemic barriers that women face in the workplace.
- Celebrate International Women’s Day. This can be anything that’s meaningful for the women at your organization, from ordering cookies for the team from a female-owned bakery to making a donation in support of local, women-centered non-profits. What’s most important is that employers acknowledge the day, as well as the contribution women make to the team.
- Make Work More Sustainable. Flexibility and work-life boundaries are paramount for women to be able to make their careers sustainable even in “normal times,” but especially now. Employers should revisit productivity goals and performance review criteria that might’ve been in place before the pandemic. Are there policies in place for expectations regarding email response times outside of work hours? Are there set meeting times so employees can plan out their days? Also, has your company developed any options for women to continue to work from home if needed?
- Reward and Recognize Women. While it’s important to implement reward and recognition initiatives for all employees at an organization, women are less likely to be recognized than men at work. On International Women’s Day and every day, employers need to make an effort to reward performance milestones and recognize women for their work, as well as investigate the ways their own organization fails to promote women to leadership roles.
- Revisit Your Parental Leave Policy. When combined with other benefits, paid parental leave can serve as a significant indicator of an organization’s company culture, impact employee satisfaction, and positively contribute to work-life balance for women. Does your company offer paid family leave?
- Minimize Gender Bias. According to the Women in the Workplace study, “The pandemic may be amplifying biases women have faced for years: higher performance standards, harsher judgment for mistakes, and penalties for being mothers and taking advantage of flexible work options.” Is your organization fostering an understanding company culture? How recent and effective was your company’s gender bias training? Is your company also focused on valuing and supporting Black women by eliminating microaggressions and workplace discrimination?
- Close the Pay Gap. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits compensation discrimination based on gender and, as stated by the EEOC, “requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work.” However, the gender wage gap persists and is caused by a number of issues that women face. For example, women are commonly funnelled into female-dominated professions that offer less pay than so-called “male-dominated professions.” On International Women's Day this year, President Biden passed an executive order to create the Gender Equity Council, which will tackle issues in both domestic and foreign policy that impact women, such as the pay gap. Employers should take steps such as auditing your pay scale and encouraging women to pursue all professions and leadership positions.
- Strengthen Female Mentorship and Diversify Leadership. Many women in leadership roles also serve as mentors to young women and women of color. If those senior-level women leave the workforce, then it negatively impacts those mentees’ path to success. Does your company currently sponsor female mentorship programs, educational opportunities for women, or volunteering efforts that support women in business? How does your company strengthen its commitment to diversifying leadership?
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