We’ve read the reports and seen the data that says one of the hardest hit populations of the pandemic was women (especially black women and Latinas), with more than 2 million leaving the workforce throughout 2020. Women have continued to disproportionately suffer pandemic-related job losses due to household responsibilities, children still learning remotely at home, and the need for childcare and beyond.
Recently, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said, “We need to make sure if we’re going to have a strong recovery—a strong, equitable recovery—[. . .] that women get back into the workforce.”
So how can organizations shore up their talent pools and create better on-ramps for women to return to work? Here are three ways to start.
Establish Flexible Work as the NormAfter the last year, this may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth remembering that while some employees are starting to return to the office, this doesn’t mean things will (or should) revert back to the way they used to be. Flexible schedules and hours are even more important for women who might still be juggling additional household responsibilities or kids at home. By continuing to provide the option of remote working days or hours during the week, organizations provide support to their women employees and respond empathetically to their needs and concerns.
To go a step further, organizations can consider offering abbreviated work weeks or even provide a pandemic leave of absence for high-performing women employees. Presenting options showcases an organization’s loyalty and investment to their employees now and in the future.
Provide Leadership, Networking, and Mentoring OpportunitiesFinding the right thing to keep employees engaged and satisfied in their roles can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack. But often, employees have already told you the things they consider top priority for them in their careers. When a recent Deloitte study asked respondents what would be the most beneficial action an organization could take to support them in their careers and ensure they stayed long-term in light of COVID-19, 46 percent of respondents said “providing leadership, networking, and mentoring opportunities.”
Whether it’s one-on-one mentoring, group mentoring in the form of circles, or networking through employee resource groups, these programs can be vital spaces for women to build knowledge and skills and to gain access to networks that can advance them in their careers while providing emotional support during a trying time. Mentoring relationships can help women feel less isolated and discover new avenues for career development and progression.
Eliminate Imposter SyndromeThe notion of imposter syndrome—the idea of feeling like a fraud or doubting your abilities—has gained popularity since the late 1970s and has become a frequent topic in the last decade’s push for gender parity in the workplace. But according to a recent Harvard Business Review article, authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey say we have to stop telling women they have imposter syndrome or that they need to overcome it. They explain that “imposter syndrome puts the blame on individuals without accounting for the historical and cultural contexts that are foundational to how it manifests in both women of color and white women.”
This line of thinking puts the action on fixing women rather than the places they work and the biases they encounter. It’s not a matter of whether women can overcome these feelings but rather how organizations can shift in order to remove these feelings and anxieties that create discomfort and distance between women and their workplaces. For women of color, feelings of doubt or fear of speaking up has been compounded by systemic racism and workplace disparities.
The ideas of who is professional and what demeanor or decorum constitutes professionality need to continue to evolve in this post-pandemic society to remove biases and promote an inclusive space for women employees. Companies must create an environment that builds and displays a variety of leadership styles and in which diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities are seen as exemplary rather than outliers.
By addressing these problems plaguing our workplaces, whether remotely or in person, organizations will create inclusive cultures that make it safe and supportive for women to return and rise in the workforce. If companies don’t implement strategies and tactics to fight off attrition amidst their female employees, this pandemic trend could become a post-pandemic norm.