America’s working women are in crisis, and continue to bear the economic burden of the COVID-19 pandemic as many have voluntarily or involuntarily left the workforce. Employers in 2021 have a responsibility to intentionally build the pathways back to full employment for women.
A recent analysis of 2020 job losses among the four hardest-hit sectors—leisure and hospitality, educational and health services, government, and retail—finds that 4.3 million women in the U.S. lost their jobs in those sectors alone in 2020, compared to some 2.6 million men working in the same fields. Looking at the overall economy, 15.5% of all working women in the country found themselves out of a job in April 2020, compared to 13.1% of men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There are a number of factors at play here. First, women are more likely to work in “pink collar,” service-oriented occupations, like teaching, nursing, childcare, and social work, all of which were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Second, the country continues to grapple with a chronic shortage of affordable, high-quality childcare—a societal failure, in an era when most parents work. Third, a number of studies conducted in 2020 suggest that women were largely responsible for taking care of children during the pandemic.
Fixing the big, macroeconomic factors will require all of us working together to combat structural sexism and better support all working parents. That said, individual employers can make innovation-led, women-supportive changes now to improve working conditions for women inside their companies. This is not just the morally right thing to do—building a better work environment for women can lead to improved employee retention and better business resilience and continuity, ultimately leading to better business outcomes.
As the Chief People Officer at Dataminr, here are three things I’m focusing on this year.
1. ASSESSING OUR COMPANY’S BENEFITS FOR WOMEN AND FAMILIES
We’ve made it a priority to adopt flexible parental-leave policies that support our employees’ needs. We’ve encouraged managers to talk to their direct reports about the importance of taking care of their lives outside of work, which can be especially challenging today, when the line between work and life has become so blurred.
In April 2020, during the earliest days of mandatory shutdowns and school closures, nearly half of working mothers reported feeling at least mild symptoms of psychological stress, about 9% higher than women without children.
Take a close look at the mental-health benefits you’re offering employees. At Dataminr, we’ve made virtual mental-health counseling an integral part of our benefits package. Separately, we’ve also expanded our paid leave for expectant parents, giving birthing parents and nonbirthing parents the same amount of time off to care for, and bond with, their newborn and adopted children. We’ve also expanded our paid medical recovery period for the birthing parent, to give them extra time to medically recover from childbirth.
This has two benefits. First, it gives parents more time to care for and bond with their child. Second, by encouraging mothers and fathers to take an equal amount of paid time away from work, working men and women can continue to advance their careers at the same rate.
Take a look at the gendered work policies that may exist in your employee handbook, and consider adopting more equitable policies.
2. BUILDING BETTER WORK-LIFE BALANCE
For women who take parental leave, it’s important for employers to create the culture necessary to smoothly onboard returning parents. This is reflected in how we transition a returning employee back into their team and their responsibilities, giving them time to ramp up and feel supported and included.
Separately, it’s important for employers to build a work culture that actively encourages work-life balance for all by scheduling meetings during business hours, actively discouraging unnecessary work on the weekends, and staffing teams appropriately, so individual employees aren’t chronically overworked.
3. UPLEVELING OUR TEAM CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT
It is important to create safe spaces for women at work, through the use of female-led employee resource groups and communication channels where women can talk openly about their experiences.
Building and maintaining a healthy company culture is a shared responsibility, and requires the buy-in and support of male colleagues as well. Foster that sense of shared responsibility by designing a regular cadence of diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all employees. Demonstrate the company’s shared values from the top down, starting with senior leadership.
How have your workplaces supported women during the pandemic?
Whitney Benner is the Chief People Officer of Dataminr