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One in four women reports stalling their career or leaving the workforce due to the impact of Covid-19. Women have lost a net of 5.4 million jobs during the pandemic — nearly one million more than men.
Black, Hispanic, and Asian women accounted for every single job loss in December of 2020, and roughly 155,000 Black women left the workforce entirely. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, the gender gap grew by 36 years within the last 12 months.
The slowdown of women in executive roles is also causing a troubling trend. The loss of women in the C-suite slows down the progress of all women across levels and functions. Senior-level women are more likely to advocate for gender and racial equality, sponsor women of color and mentor young women. The effects of the pandemic might cost generations of progress.
In many ways, this is a how problem. Most organizations understand the importance of diversity in leadership roles and acknowledge the benefits of cultivating a diverse team.
Today, the challenges the U.S. economy must overcome are the outdated systems governing the private sector and a workplace culture plagued by inequality. This stall of productivity doesn’t just hold women back — it holds the entire nation back. It’s time the workplace catches up with our modern world and upgrades the status quo. Here’s how we can work together to overcome inequality.
Utilize better sourcing technology
Companies can solve this with a top-down approach, starting with how they source executive talent to how they nurture and mentor mid-level managers. Women in the C-Suite create equitable systems, are more creative, productive, and innovative, which helps retain talent and sustain organizational growth. The issues companies often face are where to find diverse talent and how to source effectively.
The current system in which companies source talent does not promote diverse hiring. When a company needs to fill open positions, the goal has always been to recruit as fast and “efficiently” as possible. The candidate volume on traditional recruiting platforms skews toward one category, making the pipeline skewed to start with and the total probability of hiring a qualified diverse candidate low.
But there is now new technology in place that makes sourcing qualified diverse candidates more efficient. Companies can sort through more candidates in less time, filter results based on desired qualifications, and contact and schedule candidates right from the recruiting platform. What took hours now takes minutes. More companies are utilizing these technologies and using them as strategic advantages against their competition.
Implement flexible schedules
According to the CDC, two-thirds of caregivers are women. Caregivers without proper support experience more burnout, anxiety, and overwork — making expanded policies pair as a mental health solution. There are two ways companies can expand support.
The first is to offer flexible scheduling. Studies show that allowing employees the option to flex their working hours dramatically reduces burnout and provides work to fit with their personal lives. 73% of employees said that having flexible work arrangements increased their work satisfaction. It gives parents a chance to spend mornings with their children and offers caregivers of aging family members the space to provide the necessary attention.
Employers also enjoy tangible benefits. They see improved employee engagement, increased productivity, and higher retention rates. A flexible schedule can be developed in real-time with a new hire during onboarding. Once employers and employees agree on a plan, they should work together when unexpected time-off is needed.
Extend leave policies for caregivers
In August 2020, Ball State University examined 353 companies of the Fortune 500. Only 72% offer some form of paid parental leave — 28% don’t offer paid parental leave at all.
For the companies that offer paid parental leave, almost half offer nearly twice as much paid leave to mothers than fathers. Two-thirds of caregivers in the U.S. workforce are women, so to better support women, we need to promote a system that allows both men and women to shoulder the load equally.
But paid leave also needs to be extended for more than just parents — extending paid time off allows employees to take the required time to care for a loved one when the unexpected happens. Currently, only five percent of companies offer paid time off. The average American worker only gets 10 vacation days a year.
Extending paid time off also reduces the cost of having to pay employees for vacation days. There is no accrual of time off, so the employer is not obligated to compensate for time owed if an employee decides to leave.
Nurture diverse talent
And with diverse teams, internal initiatives like employee resource groups and other affinity programs can empower mid-level talent and promote fair opportunities for career advancement. Over 90% of the Fortune 500 have employee resource groups (ERGs).
However, many ERGs are underutilized. Established ERGs can impact much more than just the group’s members by acting as your customer’s focus groups, advocate for the organization in the community, and be a voice for the minorities in your workforce. When young women don’t have access to a mentor, they often self-select out of a career path before even giving it a try. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.
Men are less likely to mentor young women, so losing the previous generation of women that spent their career working to break the glass ceiling will stifle personal and professional growth. Women-to-women mentorship can also help build confidence and better equip the mentee to overcome gender-specific obstacles in the workplace.
What’s at stake
When we get out of this current crisis, it will be because we collectively made a new commitment to reducing inequality. Racial and gender-based discrimination must stop if we want our nation to unlock its greatest potential.
I believe we can come together and overcome the unneeded oppression in our society. We should institutionalize a system that advocates for our best and brightest, regardless of gender or background.