After decades of fighting for equal pay and opportunities, women’s careers are being drastically affected by COVID-19.
Across the board, women and minorities are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic for many reasons. They hold jobs that are less likely to provide certain protections, like paid sick leave or paid family leave, and they are often unable to afford to miss too many days of work. Women are also more likely to stay home from work to care for sick children, and the pandemic has brought on a childcare crisis that has yet to be fully understood.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has publicly acknowledged that the pandemic “is having devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls.” He goes on to say:
Nearly 60 percent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. As markets fall and businesses close, millions of women’s jobs have disappeared. At the same time as they are losing paid employment, women’s unpaid care work has increased exponentially as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people.
Women account for about 60 percent of the first wave of coronavirus layoffs, with single mothers listing jobs at a much higher rate. Industries hit particularly hard include food service, accommodations, social assistance, and healthcare. These industries employ a disproportionate amount of women of color, who already experience higher unemployment rates than white women.
In April 2020, the participation rate for women in the workforce dropped to 54.7 percent, the lowest it’s been since February 1986. Overall, the effects that coronavirus is having on working moms are expected to have an economic impact of around $341 billion.
Americans have not faced fundamental changes like those brought on by the coronavirus since 9/11 when our everyday lives were immediately changed.
Employers should act now to bring about changes that will keep talent in the workplace. Here are some things business leaders can do to make this happen:
1. Embrace flexibility.
Some industries provided flexible work environments well before the pandemic, and it’s time for all businesses to embrace them. Working remotely allows you to find and keep the best talent, especially in the current pandemic environment.
Think beyond the five-day workweek, allowing employees to work four 10-hour days or a 30-hour workweek instead. Examine these ideas in relation to individual departments. What works for sales and customer service might not work for tech support. Talk to your team to figure out the approach that would benefit each area of the business.
2. Be compassionate.
Everything has changed so drastically, and it is important to lead with compassion to gain the trust of employees on a human level. Train managers to be supportive of employees who are struggling to juggle work and newfound responsibilities at home and consider providing new benefits to support them, like increased paid time off or flexible scheduling.
Touch base with employees regularly and allow them to speak freely about their concerns. Ensure that the company is behind them and give them the support they need to get through this difficult time.
3. Expand diversity initiatives.
More diverse companies are in a better position to adjust and adapt to changes. Embracing diversity now puts your business in a position to attract the best talent, increase employee engagement, improve insight, and strengthen your reputation.
Always remember that the stakeholders within the company have different needs, so pay attention to how your decisions affect groups of diverse employees differently.