4 Ways Companies Can Better Support Women in the Workforce
In the last 18 months, the workforce has changed. Due to the pandemic, unemployment, competing work from home and school schedules, lack of childcare, and beyond, people have been forced to reevaluate their jobs. However, one group has weathered this perfect storm and absorbed the brunt of the impact like no other: working women.
Millions of women voluntarily left the workforce during the heat of the pandemic to take care of their families, but this was not the sole cause of challenges in the work environment – it simply exacerbated existing problems. In an in-depth study on women in the workplace, McKinsey discovered one in four women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce permanently. That’s not a statistic employers can or should accept as the state of affairs.
This dilemma brings to light a few important questions – what are the current conditions for women in the workplace? And more importantly, how can you ensure your company is taking continuous steps to support women?
Current Conditions for Women in the Workplace
In 2019 women made strides in the workplace and held more nonfarm payroll jobs than men. In a recent university study, researchers found that while this may not have been “the first time that women had outnumbered men in the labor market, it was the first time that women had overtaken men during a period of job growth.” However, that significant milestone was short-lived. By May of 2020, only 49.2% of women held nonfarm payroll jobs.
Some of this is undoubtedly due to the pandemic; however, that alone is not the cause for this changing dynamic. In a recent NPR article, labor economists admit there’s no one factor that has brought a drop of 1.8 million women in the workforce. Women are searching for reliable childcare, a healthy work-life balance, a purposeful job, and a company that promotes equality in leadership and pay (just to name a few contributing factors).
What is tangible is that many women are dissatisfied with today’s workplace. According to a report by Deloitte, 51% of women are less optimistic about their career prospects now than they were before the pandemic, and 57% are planning (not just considering) leaving their current role in two years’ time.
The disruption produced by the pandemic merely revealed weak points already existent in many industries. These conditions present a unique opportunity for businesses to look at their current framework to ensure women receive fair treatment and pathways for success. If the factors contributing to women leaving or remaining absent from the workplace are multifaceted, then our solutions will have to be multifaceted as well. While we won’t pretend to have all the answers, we believe the steps below provide concrete ways we can all encourage women in the workforce.
4 Ways to Support Women in the Workforce
1) Offer flexibility – As Misty Heggeness, Principal Economist at the U.S. Census Bureau, stated in her research, telework alone is not the savior for working mothers; but it can be a helpful start. Offering remote and hybrid work offers potential for a better balance, allowing women more opportunities to support their families and business. But, the dynamic can still be a challenge – some women are stretched too thin because they feel as if they need to support their household and employer 24/7.
Flexibility with communication makes a profound difference. Companies that reset expectations around flexibility create a clear and calm structure by establishing set hours for meetings, email responses, etc. This allows women to gain a healthy work rhythm, whether they are in the office or at home, and helps them plan accordingly for the other responsibilities in their lives.
2) Be allies for your employees. Make sure women know all the resources available to them. One interesting finding in the McKinsey study discovered a substantial gap between the support companies offer and what women know about. From mental health counseling to parenting resources to bereavement support, make sure your employees know all the ways your company resources can aid them in the areas they need most.
You may have had a conversation with employees once a quarter, which is a good start. However, being an ally requires proactively and consistently sitting down to hear from those on your team. As you ask women for their input specifically and give them a chance to speak (without interruptions), you will learn about their background, expertise, and current struggles.
What intentional conversations are you having with your staff? Do they feel as if they can freely share their thoughts and ideas? A study from McKinsey on women in the workplace made the following observation: “Companies also need to create a culture that fully leverages the benefits of diversity—one in which women, and all employees, feel comfortable bringing their unique ideas, perspectives, and experiences to the table.”
3) Offer mentorships. All professionals can glean from positive business mentorships. Women can be overlooked in these influential relationships that are often turning points in careers. Sadly, some hesitation exists on the part of male mentors. “According to a recent report, almost two-thirds of male senior leaders are hesitant to have one-on-one meetings with a more junior woman. As a result, men end up mentoring other men, and women miss out.” Mentorships provide encouragement and growth opportunities that can set women up for even more successful careers. As you create clearer pathways to foster these mentorships, you will undoubtedly strengthen the innerworkings of your team as individuals sharpen and invest in one another.
4) Uphold fairness. At first glance, many companies believe they evaluate equally, and while the intention is sincere, studies show biases occur at work more often than many might perceive. However, if leaders look carefully at the progress of individuals, they will be able to steer clear of gender bias. Gender-blind studies give women a greater and more fair chance to succeed. In a recent study, researchers found that substituting a man’s name for a woman’s on a resume increased the probability of getting hired by 61%. That’s a stat worth pondering.
As leaders, continue to have consistent conversations with one another on how to include women in your company. Hold one another accountable for the goals and processes you promise to your employers. Many companies overpromise and underdeliver. Many companies state that gender and racial diversity are invaluable priorities they stand behind. However, only two-thirds of leaders and a meager one-third of managers are held accountable to follow through on creating more inclusive strategies for their companies.
We believe many hiring managers and leaders are making positive strides in supporting women in today’s workplace, but we must all continue to create a more inclusive workforce. Many women have sacrificed their time and energy to support their families during the last few years. As you build up and support your staff through mentorships, continual career opportunities, and consistent recognition, you will ensure a more inclusive workforce for years to come.
If you have further questions on this topic, be sure to reach out to our Contact 1 team.
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