This week, #EVE Voices’ leadership expert, Patrycja Riera highlights the findings from the latest McKinsey’s survey on the consequences of covid 19 for women in the workplace.

By Patrycja Riera, CEO, Inclusionem

Every year McKinsey delivers a report on the state of women in the workplace, how and if the needle has moved. This year, the report focused on COVID-19 and the destruction of the “old” workplace but also on what to do to better support women in a moment where corporations face an historic crossroad.

A hard fought momentum

That progress has been visible in the past six years.

Between 2015 and now the number of women increased from 23 to 28% in SVP and in C-Suite level from 17 to 21%. This means we have been moving forward, not fast, but we have. However, still women are still largely underrepresented at the top levels, particularly women of color. 

Saying that, the COVID 19 crisis could erase all the gains that women made.

The numbers show that women are more likely to take a leave of absence or leave their job for good, increasingly so in leadership positions. As a result, we see less women being promoted and therefore, fewer end up in top positions

This pandemic is about health but the economic crisis resulting in it turned our lives and workplaces upside down.

Many organizations and individuals adjusted quickly to the new normal, created remote and flexible workplaces. For some it has been harder and resulted in employees being exhausted and burnout out, women in particular.

There is an anxiety over layoffs, childcare homeschooling responsibilities, physical mental health and most often the underlying cause its financial insecurity.

A specific set of challenges

Everyone’s life was turned upside down by COVID-19 and some specific challenges are more likely to push talent out of the workplace. Although those are factors felt by both men and women, women experience them at a higher level.

  • Lack of flexibility at work 
  • Being available to work at all hours
  • The housework and caregiving burdens 
  • Worries that their performance is negatively judged because of caregiving responsibilities 
  • Lack of psychological safety with their leader and team to open and share the challenges they are facing 
  • Getting blindsided by decisions that affect their day-to-day work 
  • Feeling unable to bring their whole self to work. 

What can a company do to support their women employees?

Do more
  1. Make work more sustainable – it is essential that the pace of work is sustainable for working mothers and those who are facing burnout. As leaders and managers, we need to set productivity and performance expectation that are realistic. Some goals from the past may have to be reset, some projects scopes need to be narrowed down. You can also keep the same goals but change or extend the deadlines. 
  2. Reset norms around flexibility – draw clear link between work and home and when your employees are on and off. In other words, re-established work life boundaries, agree together on meetings policies, responding to emails outside of typical business hours etc.  As a leader it’s also important that you encourage your team members to set their own boundaries and take full advantage of the flexible work options. So, have an open conversation about the stigma attached to flexible work. Clarity is one of the key factors to create an effective remote team. 
  3. Review how you conduct your performance reviews – as much as they are important part of running an effective and successful organization, in this season it most probably looks differently. Align in your organization on how you review remote work and take into account the challenges employees are coping with in their personal life. Review the criteria set before COVID19, check if they’re still appropriate or if they need to be re-established in order for people to reach realistic goals. 
  4. Minimize the gender bias – the pandemic brought up what was below the surface for a long time. The bias women have been facing for years has shown up in a new way. Therefore, make sure that employees are aware of those biases, speak up publicly to the people that my potentially be touched by those biases. From talent management perspective, track outcomes for promotion, raises or layoffs by gender.  It will give you a clear picture where you stand and if both men and women are treated equally or fairly. 
  5. Adjust policies and programs to better support employees – many companies have successfully supported their employees during COVID-19 with anything from pay time off to providing resources for homeschooling. As an organization you should make sure that your employees are aware of those benefits. The data shows that there is a large gap between what employees know is available and what companies actually offer. As an organization it is important to understand what are the biggest challenges that your employees are facing, so you can address those and make sure that your benefits and policies go far enough to support their needs. 
  6. Strong communication – I can’t stress enough how important open and honest and frequent communication is. It’s critical especially in times of crisis. There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of decisions that are being taken impact the life and work of your employees. Companies need to be more open, share regular updates, and describe what kind of key decisions are taken that affects the work and life of every individual in the organization. Address what is difficult and critical and at the same time communicate with empathy for your people feel valued and understood. 

None of it is easy, it requires time, but it is extremely important if we want to commitment for gender diversity at a workplace.

dual career couple

I would argue this commitment is probably more important now than before. Invest in remote work, in leadership training and teach your leaders how to manage virtual and remote employees. 

Your culture needs to be felt outside of the building walls for your people to show up every day with this strengths and challenges, knowing that they and their work is valued. 

Connect with Patrycja on LinkedIn