Any society that fails to harness the energy and creativity of its women is at a huge disadvantage in the modern world. -Tian Wei, CCTV News
It’s becoming clear that the global pandemic is quickly turning into an economic crisis for women with unemployment rates rising to numbers not seen since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate for women stands at an unprecedented 15.5%, the first time ever that U.S. women have faced a double-digit unemployment rate. For Black and Hispanic women, it’s worse: 16.4% and 20.2%, respectively.
The unemployment rate for men is 13%; for white men, it is 12.4%.
A lot of this disparity goes back to the gender gap – most of the non-essential businesses such as nail and hair salons, hotels and restaurants employ lower-wage jobs held by mostly women. For those women who are still employed, they are finding themselves having to juggle working from home and raising their children, which is essentially a second full time job. And with school closures potentially extending to the fall or winter, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. If mom guilt weren’t already a thing, it’s now definitely something women are having to contend with.
So how do women deal with the economic, mental and physical challenges they are faced with during this time of upheaval? With companies announcing permanent work from home scenarios, is there any upside and what can companies do to adjust to the new reality for both men and women? How can companies ensure that women aren’t stuck with a double-double shift as Sheryl Sandberg recently pointed out?
“Over my lifetime, women have demonstrated repeatedly that they can do anything that men can do, while still managing traditional women’s work at the same time. But the same expansion of roles has not been available to men.” Anne-Marie Slaughter
Here are some ways companies can begin tackling this issue (and a few tips women can put into practice in the meantime.)
1. Run Meetings More Efficiently
One thing that we can all agree on is being on back to back Zoom meetings is just as draining and soul-killing as in-person meetings, if not more! Many organizations are meeting heavy, oftentimes involving too many people and not using meeting times efficiently. Of course keeping in close contact with your team is important when everyone is working from home, but it’s important to find a balance. Take an audit of all the standing meetings you are responsible for – are all of those necessary or can you cut down the frequency or length of those meetings? Are you sending out detailed agendas beforehand? Are people coming to the meeting prepared? Or does it take half an hour just to warm up? Establish meeting protocols that ensure you’re using your time wisely, where everyone’s voice is heard, and decision makers are present (otherwise you might repeat the same meeting twice!) Running meetings efficiently can save a lot of precious time for all employees, but especially for mom and parents that are homeschooling and have to provide child care at the same time.
2. Increase Paid Time Off
If organizations are going to expect employees to perform well and keep productivity high, then they are going to have to invest in their health and well-being. Paid vacation in the United States sadly trails most other industrialized nations. The key reason why the U.S. lags so far behind is because it is the “only advanced economy that does not mandate any paid vacation time for workers. Given the extra pressure and stress of having to homeschool and provide child care while juggling a full time job from home, companies must increase vacation days for their employees, and put a vacation policy in place if it does not currently have one.
3. Enforce Paternal Leave
Another way that companies can create work/life balance for their employees is to enforce paternity leave benefits. Many companies now offer paternity leave (and for those who haven’t joined that bandwagon, it’s time they did), however many organizations don’t require men to take paternal leave and therefore many don’t take advantage of it. Research has been shown companies that enforce paternity leave benefits actually have more women on their boards. Doing so encourages fathers to share in the responsibility of childcare instead of putting the burden solely on mothers which limits career advancement, otherwise known as the “motherhood penalty.”
4. Wellness Check-ins & Subsidies
One thing many companies like Google, Facebook and others do well is they offer yoga classes, on-site gyms, healthy food options and other perks to make sure employees stay healthy. Without these benefits available to employees, companies need to innovate in the way they ensure the health and well-being of their workforce. Managers can build in wellness hours by scheduling yoga or meditation classes for their team via Zoom or pay for online subscriptions. They can provide bonuses or monthly stipends to cover healthy food delivery to employee homes (and support local businesses at the same time). And managers can do wellness check-in’s with their employees to talk about how they are handling stress and social distance and asking about emotional wellbeing, provided they have the training to have those conversations in a productive way.
Some things just cannot wait. Men have to stand up now for women’s equality. – Rick Goings, CEO Tupperware Brands
5. Create a Culture of Belonging
Creating a sense of belonging and inclusion should have been a priority pre-pandemic especially for those organizations that prioritize their people and understand that their workforce is the most valuable asset they have. It’s become that much more important to prioritize this because let’s face it, it’s hard to feel belonging when we’re physically separated. Providing managers with the leadership skills necessary to create a culture where everyone feels safe to speak up, contribute and feel their ideas matter is essential to ensuring high performing teams stay that way.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate & Ask for Help
Women are notorious for taking on more work responsibilities just to prove their value and worth. They tend to take on a lot of administrative and lower-level tasks. This creates a catch 22 – now you have double the work than your male counterparts and you’re not getting the higher visibility work that can help you get noticed for a promotion. It’s so important to make sure you’re asking for help and not taking on extra work just because you want to be “nice” and seen as a “team player.” Look through your list of responsibilities and delegate those that aren’t the best use of your time. Build accountability to ensure the work is being done in a timely and efficient manner by those you delegate to. Say no to projects or tasks that are going to be time suckers but not amount to any value for key decision makers and stakeholders who might be deciding on who gets the next promotion. This way you’re able to take on higher-visibility projects when they come up or ask your boss for opportunities to build your skills in a new area.
7. Let Go of Perfection
Women can tend to be perfectionists and because of this end up putting more pressure on themselves to be perfect wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and employees. In the new work from home reality, the pressure to be perfect could lead to a situation that just isn’t feasible. Needing everything to be perfect can lead to micro-managing workloads and getting too stuck in the details. It can be exhausting and isn’t a good way to leverage your time. Letting go of perfection and settling for “good enough” can be one way to relieve the pressure of having to impress everyone around you. Own your gifts and let go of having to prove your value through needing to be perfect.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
Whether you are in a decision making role or not, whether it affects you or not (I’m looking at you male allies!), you can begin to advocate for these changes in the companies you work for and the teams you manage. The companies that are going to survive and thrive will be listening to their employees and the ideas they bring to the table around how to handle these changing times. With all the capital they will be saving on real estate, they should be thinking about how to redirect those funds to increase their bottom line through investing in the health and well-being of their workforce and creating cultures of inclusion and belonging for everyone, including women.
Why we have too few women leaders | Sheryl Sandberg