One in four women are considering leaving work or reducing their career. Many women feel they are doing it all, but not doing any of it very well. Pressures created by the pandemic are causing women to experience certain challenges more than men. These include worrying their performance is being judged because of caregiving responsibilities, feeling the need to be available to work at all hours, feeling blind-sided by decisions that affect their daily work routine, housework and caregiving responsibilities and discomfort in sharing their challenges at work. Women with children under 10 years old are most likely to leave the workforce, citing childcare as the primary reason.
This year’s McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org Women in the Workplace survey of more than 40,000 employees demonstrate how the challenges of COVID-19 are threatening to erase all the gains made in the past six years of women representing corporate America. Women, especially women of color remain sorely underrepresented in management roles, despite the numbers steadily increasing since 2015.
The report gives companies six steps to retain women by addressing their challenges. First, make work more sustainable. Consider revising productivity and performance expectations to make them realistic. About one-half of the companies surveyed have done this. This mean extending deadlines and/or narrowing the scope of projects. Finding ways to create more time off that is most valuable. Some have provided new school year preparation days and half-day Fridays.
Reset norms around flexibility. Let working from home employees know what hours they are expected to be working to reduce the “always on” feeling. Or encourage employees to create their own hours with mutually set meeting times. However, some employees are reluctant, worrying there may be a stigma attached to using this freedom. Leaders should model the behavior to reduce the stigma.
Relieve employee stress and refocus on key priorities by reassessing performance criteria. Make expectations realistic to reduce anxiety. Less than one third of the companies have adjusted performance appraisal criteria to account for the pandemic’s challenges.
Be hypersensitive to gender biases. This report has brought the spotlight back to workplace penalties for being a working mother. Unconscious bias training can help. Companies must track promotions and compensation by gender as well as performance ratings, and layoffs.
Make sure employees are aware of benefits available to them and encourage their use. Many companies are scrambling to relieve employees’ burdens by expanding mental health services and providing managers training to support employees’ well-being. Some companies are expanding paid leave programs. Assess the effectiveness of benefits and consider reallocating resources to the most valuable programs.
Communication during a crisis is the most critical. One in five employees has felt uninformed during the pandemic. Employees want to know about decisions that impact their work. Many of the companies are sharing more financial information about the company. Leaders must communicate with empathy to make employees feel valued. Empathetic open communication reduces anxiety and builds trust.
Don’t let diversity retreat.