The covid crisis has magnified many of the challenges that women face in their career.
If not done well, the “future of work” that is expected to adopt a healthier working from home culture in some shape or form will increase the gender gap instead of helping to bridge it.
Did having both parents at home help balance household responsibilities? Unfortunately not. According to McKinsey’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion report, mothers are still more than three times more likely than fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving. Since covid hit, nearly 1 in 4 women are thinking of either trading their current professional role for a less senior one, or quitting.
Companies risk either losing their female talent or not benefitting from its full potential. We can take a few simple steps to help remedy the deepening of gender imbalance.
“Face time” opportunities
Ensure that everyone has the same “face time” opportunities. Flexible working and working from home are expected to be the norm in most organisations. While this is important for talent retention, it may put some at a disadvantage.
Since women take on more household responsibilities than men, they end up taking advantage of the flexible working options more than male colleagues.
The risk is that men may spend more time at the office and get more informal communication opportunities that help further their careers. A solution for this is that companies can set times when all team members are in the office.
Give women a seat at the virtual table
With the pressure to make effective decisions, it can be convenient to huddle up with just a few team members, at the last minute. This may leave women unexpectedly left out of important team discussions as these meetings are scheduled last minute or women are not on premise when these occur.
As meetings are now largely virtual, teams should make extra effort to ensure more inclusive participation and seek input from those who’ve spoken less. These simple and everyday behaviours show dedication to building an inclusive culture.
For a long time, women have been dealing with biases and stereotypes at work. This has been amplified during the covid crisis and remote working.
For instance, there are false perceptions that mothers cannot be as focused at work, due to childcare responsibilities, compared to fathers. Employers need to implement initiatives that help address these biases.
Professional coaching can be especially helpful. It can help people work through their biases, which prevent them from acknowledging women’s contribution and treating them fairly.
Create opportunities for women to return to work
According to the National Women’s Law Centre, nearly 2.2 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic in the US alone. This can lead to a serious shortage of female talent in the post-pandemic world. Companies should initiate returnship programs to encourage women to re-enter the workforce after some time away.
Given the unique dynamics women deal with, emphasised by a remote world, the commitment to gender diversity and inclusion is now more important than ever before.
If we don’t act now, we could end up alienating a vital part of our workforce. Building a more flexible and empathetic workplace is everyone’s responsibility.