Strategies for retaining and nurturing female talent
The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly had a disproportionate impact on women in the workforce. For instance, a recent study of six countries (China, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the UK, and the US) found that
women were 24% more likely to lose their jobs compared to men. Additionally,
December 2020 US unemployment data showed that job losses could be attributed
entirely to women (when considering jobs added vs. lost).
Unfortunately, we cannot simply blame the pandemic. What this data suggests is that COVID has made an
existing situation worse. In 1990, 51% of women participated in the workforce. Today? It’s just 46.9%. How, in this age of women’s empowerment, could that number be moving backwards? Why are women leaving the workforce, and how can we retain talented
female employees and elevate them into executive roles?
Children and Childcare
The US estimates approximately
10 million women in the workforce are also mothers to young children. As a working mother to two young children myself, I can relate to these challenges personally. I am lucky enough to be able to afford private childcare, however many women in the workforce
do not have this flexibility.
Women are no longer expected to stay at home with their children in 2021. However, many have no choice but to do so. In the US, COVID-19 is being blamed for the loss of 4.5 million childcare slots, and the industry was already not keeping up with
demand pre-pandemic. With schools shut down, the care of children has had a significant impact on working mothers.
Childcare is also prohibitively expensive for many families. With women earning less on the dollar than men, many women’s salaries are not enough to even cover annual childcare costs. This means that they would actually
lose money from remaining at work. It’s more affordable for their family to have a parent at home. This dilemma has led to $64.5 billion in lost wages and economic activity each year.
In 2019, the International Labour Organization conducted a global study which found that 1.5% of men provided full-time unpaid childcare vs. 21.7% of women. In short – moms are staying home more than dads on a global scale.
We are always connected in this digital age and it can sometimes be hard to unplug from the office. Working from home during COVID has made this even more difficult. But work-life balance is not only the responsibility of the worker: it is heavily influenced
by corporate policies and culture.
Of course, we as businesses must have some structure in order to maintain accountability and productivity within our workforce. But we in leadership must recognize that our employees have complex and challenging lives outside of the office, and we must work
within that life (not the other way around). More generous benefits and compensation, flexible work schedules, paid sick leave, paternity leave, and an overall culture centered around employee well-being
can actually produce greater productivity and loyalty in your staff, in addition to encouraging women to join or remain within your company.
What can we do?
With men outpacing women in leadership roles, it can make it difficult for them to empathize with their female employees because they do not face the same challenges. At the start of the pandemic, I would often “hide” my children while on Zoom calls to provide
an appearance that I was fully engaged. I am one of the few at the company with young children at home, and I didn’t want to be judged as not “having it all together”.
What I came to realize is that by not discussing how challenging life was with two kids at home, I wasn’t helping anyone else in my organization. Being transparent about my own struggles helped my colleagues understand how important it was to be flexible.
For example, we had an opportunity to hire an ideal candidate for a senior role. When I provided the offer, she reluctantly turned it down as she was managing three young children at home with schools closed and she didn’t want to disappoint me. We worked
together to identify a strategy to have “office hours” for 15 hours a week where she had to be available for meetings. These office hours were communicated to the team and the remainder of her hours were at her discretion. For those 15 hours we worked together
on a childcare strategy. This arrangement has worked really well and we were able to hire the person we wanted while still allowing her to meet her obligations at home and have more balance.
It’s also important to check in with your employees. Life is significantly more difficult with the pandemic. It is important that employees feel comfortable sharing how tough it can be on certain days and for colleagues and managers to be able to empathize.
Furthermore, it’s important to use recruitment strategies that prevent unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is something that we all have within us, whether we like to admit it or not. We need to look past things like gender, gaps in employment, country of
origin, and age, instead evaluating candidates based solely on merit. We choose candidates for interviews based on their qualifications alone, and that is a huge reason why Ascendant has such a diverse staff, with many born outside of North America and split
almost evenly between women and men. We see this as a huge strength for our organization; our staff are multi-lingual and bring diverse perspectives and experiences to their roles.
Don’t Blame COVID
While it’s clear from much of the data released in 2020 that the pandemic has contributed significantly to the problems facing women, we cannot simply blame COVID for the issues. They have existed for generations and if true equality existed pre-COVID, then
the pandemic would not have disparately affected women the way it has. Our systems continue to work against women, and it’s up to all of us to retain these talented women and uplift them as they work towards their career goals.