Women’s History Month is a fantastic time — as is any other month — to celebrate the contributions women have had on American history, culture, and society. But we should also consider the challenges women continue to face, especially in the workplace, and how business leaders can alleviate them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women. According to a recent analysis from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), male workers have already regained all the jobs they lost due to the public health crisis. Yet, as of January 2022, there are still more than a million fewer women in the labor force compared to this time two years ago. At January’s rate, it would take women nearly another 10 months of growth to regain all the jobs they lost. Put another way: Men’s labor force participation rate was up to 70% in January while the women’s rate hovers at 58%.
“While men have recouped lost jobs, women are still in a big hole, and that shows how the pandemic impacts genders in different ways,” said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at NWLC. “Part of the reason for this is because women still hold the lion’s share of caregiver responsibilities.”
During one notable month of the pandemic, women accounted for more than 100% of job losses, with women losing 156,000 jobs while men gained 16,000. Unstable school and daycare situations have forced women — typically the primary caregivers despite many also holding full-time jobs — to exit the workforce to care for dependents.
How we got here
Women have always been unequally saddled with a larger share of the labor required in the home. To make matters worse, the labor they’re required to do in the workplace has also increased more than their male counterparts during the pandemic.
When women began entering the workforce in the early 20th century, the domestic work they had been historically responsible for didn’t simply disappear. Instead, many women found themselves working a “double shift” — juggling a full-time job along with the majority of the childcare and housework responsibilities.
It should come as no surprise that the pandemic merely exacerbated long-standing gender inequality issues. Working mothers were significantly more likely to leave their jobs in 2020 compared to working fathers.
Yet workload inequity in the home isn’t all women must contend with. According to Deloitte Global’s Women @ Work survey, nearly 80% of women say their workloads have increased because of the pandemic. And McKinsey research found that the burnout gap between women and men in the workplace has almost doubled. These numbers could be because women have stepped up during the pandemic to better support their teams.
According to the same McKinsey report, women are doing more to promote employee wellbeing and champion DEI initiatives compared to their male counterparts. While these efforts may be outside women’s job descriptions, they require real labor — labor that is going overlooked. Nearly 70% of companies say the work their employees do to promote DEI is critical, but less than a quarter recognize this work in formal evaluations like performance reviews.
Compounding these challenges is the frequency of noninclusive behaviors at work that women face. Deloitte found that even in remote and hybrid environments, the majority of women are experiencing noninclusive behaviors like disparaging remarks about their gender and questions about their judgment.
“Women are facing the ‘perfect storm’ with heavier workloads and greater responsibilities at home increasingly blurring boundaries between the two. They are also continuing to experience noninclusive behaviors in a work context, with many not reporting this to their employer despite the understandably negative impact it may have on the recipient,” said Deloitte Global Inclusion Leader Emma Codd.
How to support women in the workplace
Women identified a lack of work-life balance as the top reason they’re considering leaving their current employers in Deloitte’s Women @ Work survey. Just one in five women said their employers have helped them create clear work-life boundaries during the pandemic. Additionally, women identified an increased workload as the top reason they’re considering exiting the workforce altogether. To create a more supportive work environment for women, employers must address these core issues.
There’s a growing consensus that remote work better empowers women to participate in the workforce due to its more flexible nature. As an enterprise video platform, we at Socialive believe video to be one of the most crucial tools for creating a remote-first work environment. But to foster a truly flexible workplace, we know it takes a lot more than having the right technology. Here’s how we’re striving to create a remote workplace that supports women:
- Hire more women and promote them to positions of leadership. At Socialive, 29% of our employees identify as women as of February 2022 — 3% above the national average in the tech industry. 13, or 45%, of those 31 women are in leadership or management roles, with two at the VP level. Despite this progress, we’re not where we’d like to be yet as far as gender parity. Continuing to hire and promote more women remains one of our top priorities.
- Expand bias, antiracism, and inclusivity training to all employees — not just recruiters. In addition to our recruiters, all hiring managers (anyone involved in the hiring process) are required to go through an unconscious bias in hiring course through our learning management system. We also believe all our employees should expand their knowledge in these areas. Our inclusive language learning and development course, for example, is a requirement for all employees to help us establish a more inclusive culture.
- Provide true flexibility. Remote work can easily turn into “always-on” work. To provide the environment women need to juggle all their duties, flexibility must go beyond policies and be embedded in the culture. At Socialive, it’s not uncommon to see calendar blocks like “daycare pickup” or “soccer game” on the schedules of our working parents — both men and women. As a global company, we also don’t have set “hours,” enabling employees to alter their schedules as needed.
- Support employee wellbeing and mental health. To help alleviate burnout, we introduced monthly Mental Health Days. Employees can use these days however they see fit, whether that’s running errands, watching TV all day, or extending a vacation. Everyone takes their Mental Health Days, including senior leadership, ensuring it’s part of our culture.
- Create safe spaces for women. We established The Circle as a safe space for all Socialive team members who identify as women, non-binary, or gender non-conforming to connect, offer support, and discuss specifically relevant experiences. Additionally, our mentorship program connects women across our organization to share guidance and promote career growth.
- Recognize all forms of labor in the workplace. As outlined above, women are much more likely than men to participate in DEI groups and spend time on employee support initiatives that advance the company. At Socialive, these contributions are frequently lauded in formal performance reviews. More informal opportunities for praise, like High Fives throughout the week, also ensure visibility from senior leadership.
If it’s not enough to simply want gender equity in the workplace, consider the implications on your bottom line. The organizations that better support women perform better than those that don’t. Companies with more women in leadership have greater profitability, higher productivity, and better stock price performance.
And that’s not to mention women’s impact on culture. The work women do for DEI and wellbeing has a direct impact on employee happiness and engagement, ultimately reducing turnover. But your organization can’t benefit from all that women provide in the workplace if they’re not in it. Developing a flexible, supportive culture is a must to ensure women have what they need to succeed.