COVID’s Impact on Women in the Workplace

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It is hard to believe that it has been almost a full year since COVID-19 appeared on the horizon. While COVID has affected almost everyone in some way, there has been a detrimental impact on women in the workplace, especially women of color and senior-level women. According to the National Women’s Law Center, over 2.3 million women have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic, as compared to 1.8 million men in the same time period.

There are several challenges that have pushed women to leave their jobs. Housework and childcare burden, including virtual school, often fall on women. According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, Latina mothers are 1.6 times more likely than white mothers to be responsible for childcare and housework, while Black mothers are twice as likely. Lack of flexibility with work schedule and location are also contributing factors, while some women are simply burned out.

So, what can you do to retain the women on your team? Here are some suggestions that will benefit everyone, but especially women, on your team.

Adjust your expectations. Many companies have modified employee goals and performance criteria, while some have suspended reviews altogether. Take a hard look at how you are measuring performance and decide if your goals are still realistic.

Offer flexibility in scheduling. Can you accommodate different work hours? This can help immensely. Keep in mind that some employees, especially women, are comfortable with integrating work and home life throughout the day, while others prefer to have clear boundaries between the two.

Review and adjust your time off policies. In addition to increasing or extending vacation carryover, companies may choose to offer additional paid time off options. For example, some organizations have instituted paid leave policies specifically for emergency childcare.

Educate your team about benefits offerings. Do you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? This is one of the best-kept secrets among benefit programs, although awareness certainly has increased in the past year. EAPs typically offer mental health support (beyond what medical insurance might cover), and they can even help employees find resources or referrals for childcare, elder care, or tutoring.

Consider reimbursing for work-from-home expenses. One company, when it learned that an employee was paying for a higher internet speed tier, decided to offer a flat internet reimbursement for every employee working remotely. Other reimbursable expenses might include cell phone use, laptop stands, office supplies, and the like.

Review your employment practices for inclusivity, particularly for women of color. For example, track hires and promotions to minimize and address any gender bias. Speak out about your expectations and make sure that you are not tolerating any non-inclusive behavior.

Ultimately, one of the most basic but effective things you can do is continue engaging with your employees. Talk with them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them how they are really doing. Do not be afraid to share some of your own challenges! Showing your own vulnerability helps encourage others to open up, and that alone can make a difference for the women in your workplace.