3 Masterful Ways To Boost Women In A Post-Covid Workforce
Apr 7, 2021 | Forbes.com
At first, the transition to working remotely during Covid-19 lockdown wasn’t easy for Megan Steckler, a working mom of three who traveled extensively for business. Managing online learning, a toddler and two full-time careers was overwhelming for her and her husband. But after getting the hang of a new rhythm (and yes, hiring a nanny to help with the kids), she basked in something that was sorely lacking pre-pandemic: work-life balance.
In their old life, she and her husband raced to get the kids to daycare by 7 a.m., and then scooped them up again by 6 p.m. after a busy workday. Downtime was nonexistent. “We all struggled to get through the homework, dinner and bath routine in the short time we had together each night, and every weekend was spent on the grocery, laundry and catch-up routine,” says Steckler, director of client consulting at Perceptyx, an employee listening and people analytics platform. “We were tired, stretched too thin and burning out.”
Though a new normal is heading our way with the vaccine rollout, she plans to continue working from home and commuting only for the rare special occasion. “I absolutely loved our office culture, establishing relationships with my incredible colleagues, and all the social perks that come with working in the office environment,” she recalls, “but all of that time away was taking a massive toll on my young family. When I was traveling and commuting, people commented all the time, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ Looking back now, I can say, ‘I don’t know how I did it.’ It’s not something I would be eager to ever do again.”
Home Office Or Bust
She’s not alone. According to a new Perceptyx report of over 1,000 U.S. employees surveyed, almost half of the women respondents (48%) say that, compared to six months ago, they’ve become either much less likely or somewhat less likely to want to return to the office full-time after Covid-19 restrictions lift. And while an equal number of women and men (24%) would like to adopt a hybrid working arrangement post-Covid, men say they intend to spend 3–4 days per week on-site, while women say they intend to spend just 2–3 days on-site.
Women have already taken a huge hit from the pandemic economy, enduring a staggering loss of more than 5 million jobs in 2020 alone. From getting the short end of the stick with furloughs, closures and cutbacks, to increased caregiving and other unpaid domestic responsibilities, women have had to bear the brunt of Covid’s financial and familial impacts.
Born out of necessity during lockdown, employers’ newfound embrace of flexible and remote work is bound to stick (at least somewhat) after restrictions lift—and this is good news for women. But at what cost? And how can we best support women in a post-Covid workforce?
Forward-thinking companies need to take the following three critical actions to ensure women’s place in the future of work:
1. Out Of Sight Cannot Mean Out Of Mind
Working remotely is a boon to many kinds of workers, but it can limit opportunities if it’s not executed in the right way. The Perceptyx survey found that, in pandemic times, 40% of respondents saw a decline in the frequency of performance reviews, recognition, promotions and raises. If more women than men continue working remotely going forward, that could translate into missed chances for taking on sought-after projects, getting passed over for promotions, and a perpetuation of compensation bias (i.e., a widening gender pay gap).
Companies need to put measures in place now to prevent adverse impacts to their hybrid and fully remote workers. This might include special training for managers and people leaders so they can adjust their management strategy to ensure that remote employees remain in the running for rewards and recognition. And employees need to stay seen—whether it’s through frequent videoconferences or team-based communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams.
In some ways, working remotely can make teammates more creative and purposeful about connecting with their colleagues. “I have had to find new ways to connect and maintain relationships, but turning on my camera and engaging with my remote colleagues has broadened my network and encouraged me to collaborate with colleagues outside my office location,” notes Steckler. “It has broken down silos that I didn’t see before.”
2. Talent Sourcing Must Have D&I Baked In
What better way to support women in the workforce than to hire more of them? In order to avoid perpetuating old-school, old boys’ club ways of recruiting senior leaders, companies can look to new models of executive search, such as Inkwell’s bounty referral program. In addition, companies can do more to make their posted positions attractive to women and diversity-and-inclusion friendly. One way is to openly state their support of hybrid and fully remote workers. Another is to answer employees’ wishes to bring their “whole self” to work—whether it’s their mother/caregiver self or their prioritization of health and wellness.
3. Retaining Women Should Be A Strategic Choice
Women often have different motivations than men for leaving or staying at their current jobs, and employers should be aware of those reasons so they can proactively address them—and offset the brain-drain of talented women. For example, in a previous study of more than 750,000 employees across more than 100 global enterprises, Perceptyx found that women are most driven to leave an organization when they don’t feel empowered to make their own decisions about how to best accomplish their work.
The three critical actions above will go a long way in protecting women’s place in a post-Covid work world—but to achieve true parity, we need to level the playing field in our home lives as well. This means a more even distribution of domestic and child-raising responsibilities among men and women, so that women aren’t burning the candle at both ends. “I consider myself to be incredibly blessed with a husband who is supportive of my work schedule and willing to do more than his share of the daycare pick-ups, sick days and laundry,” says Steckler.
And while the work-life integration gained from remote work can be a gift, there’s still a lot to be said for the “me time” that is a bonus of any good business trip. “A plane ride, a night in a hotel and presentation to a room full of actual people are luxuries I won’t ever again take for granted,” she says.
Author: Manon DeFelice