Here’s how employers can avoid losing talented women during the pandemic

The ongoing pandemic is negatively affecting women in the workforce, but it doesn't have to be that way.
By: | October 21, 2020 • 3 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has left the world shaken; life as we once knew it has seemingly changed forever. However, that’s not an excuse for employers that have failed to uphold their diversity & inclusion commitments.

That point has been made forcefully with McKinsey’s sixth annual Women in the Workplace report. Alarmingly, more than one in four women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely in light of the pandemic, according to the report. That translates into around 2 million women globally giving up their jobs.

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Among other factors, the report found a “broken rung” on the ladder to success had proved instrumental in holding back female progress—women have been continuing to lose ground as they attempted to make the step up to manager. Bleakly, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women shared that promotion.

However, says Teresa Hopke, CEO at diversity consultancy Talking Talent, if employers make a conscious effort to re-prioritize D&I, the lost ground can be regained.

“Watching the COVID-19 pandemic sweep across the globe, turning individuals, businesses and entire economies upside-down, has left many clutching for hope and struggling to do their jobs,” Hopke says.

She adds that the United Nations warned—and it has been confirmed in this latest McKinsey report—that the pandemic will exacerbate inequalities for women and risk the progress made towards gender equality. The McKinsey report, she says, shows that the significant majority of the negative workplace impact has been against women, mothers and women of color—the very groups that businesses should be striving to create equity for.

“Even so, one thing is clear: The pandemic doesn’t cause gender inequality. We do,” Hopke says, adding that, for HR and business leaders, now is the time to “double down” and invest in supporting women employees so they feel it’s possible to stay.

“I’m not just talking to those in senior leadership; if you lead any kind of team, project or initiative, then you’re an influencer here,” she says.

Related: Why women need to ‘shout those accomplishments’

In other words, don’t hesitate in figuring out how to harness the best parts of the new way of working to drive further momentum on inclusion and diversity. For now, that means it’s still crucial for organizations to invest in women-centric leadership coaching—not just to check a box, but to drive real solutions that create authentic transformation and culture change, invest in people and protect talent pipelines as a result, Hopke says.

“When employers put a plan of action in place to nurture, engage, enhance and invest in female talent, they will discover it’s not about a battle of the sexes,” Hopke explains. She believes temporarily targeting specialist areas within a company to capitalize on micro-coaching opportunities will help strengthen the whole. And female-specific leadership programs offer an opportunity for employers to show they are willing to invest in women in their organization.

This creates belonging and loyalty, she says, noting it also helps women to grow, improve and increase confidence while improving company profit, innovation and reputation.

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“There’s no excuse not to champion women—and the businesses that do will realize the proven bottom-line and culture benefits as a result,” Hopke says. “Let’s dial up our efforts, reverse this staggering turn in experience and statistics, and truly change the workplace, for women, for the better.”

Editor’s Note: HR leaders and others intent on keeping talented women in the workforce during the pandemic should not miss the 2020 HR Technology Conference & Exposition (Oct. 27-30), which will feature a number of D&I-focused sessions, including A Data-Driven Approach to Setting and Achieving Diversity Goals, with expert presenters from McDonald’s Corp. and Odyssey Corp.

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.