The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the modern workplaces across the world and the United States. Unfortunately, women were disproportionately impacted sparking the “She-Cession.” According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace annual study, one in four women are considering stepping out or stepping back from the workplace which is unprecedented.
Now more than ever, management must holistically support, encourage and prioritize their female workforce to ensure the progress women have made in the workplace isn’t reversed. To do this, leaders can focus on committing to help their female workforce on a professional, personal and company level.
One important theme that affects women in the workplace is the stagnant position many of them hold. Rather than being set up for success and moving up the corporate ladder, women, especially women of color, aren’t advancing professionally compared to their male counterparts. In fact, a recent study shows that for every 100 men promoted to a manager, only 86 women were promoted. To turn this around, leaders can:
- Invest in their Success. Key to optimizing and retaining talent demands that you provide professional growth opportunities. Not only does this help female employees become more proficient and productive at their current job, but it can help them successfully move onto the next step in their career map. As a leader, be aware of each of your female employees’ individual personalities while thinking of ways to upskill together. For example, if they’re more extroverted, have them report out on a project to senior leaders as you guide the way and provide feedback following.
- Pave the Way. As a leader, it’s important to recognize your direct role and responsibility goes beyond mentoring to get more women in leadership roles. Yes, friendship, support and empathy are needed, but are you a tactical member of their team? Do you consistently look out for them and seek out opportunities? Do you advocate on their behalf at every turn?
A second important aspect that was present before the pandemic, but somewhat less obvious, was the large role that women play at home. In addition to childcare, as previously noted, other factors that forced many women to quit or downsize their careers included the need for workplace flexibility and caregiving responsibilities of elder relatives. To retain females at work to address those specific concerns, leaders should:
- Offer hybrid work as an option. Rather than requiring in-person or completely remote workdays, provide a hybrid schedule. This way, your female employees can benefit from in-person connection and collaboration, while having the flexibility to stay home occasionally to alleviate some of the pressure and logistics of paying for childcare or planning who can stay home with their aging parent. As a leader, it’s also important to be proactive about avoiding hybrid work burnout before offering this option.
- Help teams set boundaries. Teams collaborating in different time zones translates to emails, texts and calls coming in at all hours of the day. Without leaders helping teams create, honor and model set boundaries, individuals feel constant pressure to check in and be “on” long after the workday ends. Setting up asynchronous systems, combined with encouraging structured timeframes for meetings and deep work goes a long way toward feeling supported and productive.
A third trend that’s causing women to leave the workplace is the amount of “invisible work” they’re doing without recognition, especially around diversity, equity and inclusion. While they may feel satisfied to be working on these important topics, female employees and managers themselves doing a majority of this work are being left exhausted. Only about a quarter of employees say that the extra work they’re doing is formally recognized. To help with this:
- Make the work your female employees are doing visible. To acknowledge what they do and help them feel appreciated, get the word out in the company. Highlight and showcase their actions yourself. Also, encourage them to self-promote what they’re doing and how that positively impacts the company. For example, maybe your company is going to be awarded an accolade. Dedicate an internal meeting to have female employees at the forefront of these initiatives explain them and answer any clarifying questions.
- Show your appreciation in their paychecks. Yes, consistent, specific and sincere appreciation and recognition increases the likelihood they’ll continue this work, but why not simply pay people for their additional time and efforts? Furthermore, research shows that women are asked to do more non-promotable workplace tasks than men, so be careful to rotate requests fairly amongst your entire team.
As a leader, it’s important to be realistic about how long implementing some of these changes may take and what resources you’ll need to make them. By having frequent communication, being open to feedback and remaining transparent as to what changes you’re making, your employees can feel reassured too.