It took us centuries to fight for the right to work only to be pushed back into our homes by a tiny microscopic organism.
The pandemic has reinforced the traditional gender roles yet again, as women’s participation hits the lowest mark in the paid workforce in more than 30 years. An approximate 2.4 million women left the workforce in 2021 with a bleak likelihood of returning as they become “COVID induced homemakers”.
The need for women to be ‘always on’ while juggling between disproportionate workload, both at the personal and professional front has taken a significant toll on their mental health, more so than the last year.
A study by McKinsey reports that burnout has doubled for women than men. This has especially been worse for working mothers and primary caretakers. The exhaustion of serving as a caretaker, childcare and schooling responsibilities, household chores, and work-led responsibilities, has forced 1 in every 3 women to either take a significant step back in their careers or leave their jobs altogether.
Why is it a problem that needs to be addressed immediately?
While ‘the Great resignation’ has been the talk of the town for the past year, we’ve not paid much attention to who is really driving it. Women’s exit from the workplace has been almost twice in comparison to men, marking the lowest female workforce contribution in the last 30 years.
As leaders look for ways to keep their talent in the house and win this war of talent, they might need to be more mindful of the talent pool that is actually at risk. Furthermore, if the pandemic has been an advocate of anything, it is that women and women leaders are integral to the workplace and to the society at large. A McKinsey study suggested that despite the added work pressure, women leaders outperformed male counterparts in the same position.
Additionally, in the same study, it was found that women leaders were able to manage and promote employee well-being during COVID much better than their male counterparts.
A study found that organizations with higher women’s board representation outperform others in financial aspects. Other finding suggests that gender-diverse teams have a better contribution to net sales and overall profit than homogenous/ male-dominated teams.
How to restore gender equity and plan the future of work?
A silver lining of the pandemic is that it has freed employees from their desks as most of the business leaders agree that the future of work is hybrid. Remote/ hybrid work settings open up the job market for multiple workforces, including mothers. Greater flexibility at the workplace can result in a better work-life balance, especially for working mothers who juggle between their parental and work responsibilities. However, as most organizations plan to jump on the hybrid bandwagon, we fail to acknowledge its unintended consequences on the gender divide in the workplace.
A greater percentage of women and especially working mothers (50% more likely than men) prefer working from home as compared to working fathers. While these numbers seem harmless and merely a work setting preference from the outside, this in fact could exacerbate the gender gap at the workplace. With a higher percentage of males working from the office and females working in a remote setting, it can exacerbate pay disparity and glass ceiling since in-person work is found to be positively correlated with career advancement, promotion, and pay hikes. In a study by HBR, it was found that remote workers had a 50% lower promotion rate than in-office employees. This can further pull women back in a decade-old fight to win a seat at the table.
All of this points to the fact that while flexible work arrangement is a welcoming change for all employees regardless of their gender, without adequate diversity planning, a standalone policy of flexible work settings is not a sustainable solution in long run.
Here are three key factors to keep in mind while planning the future of an effective and inclusive workplace:#1 When in doubt, fall back on data!
Instead of making assumptions listen to what your people actually want.
Start by objectively understanding the preferences of your people and identify patterns by analyzing key demographic cohorts like gender, employee grade (entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level), and business/ department units.
Reflect on the last two years of remote working by asking your employees pointed questions around their work experience to understand your strengths and areas of improvement.
Once you have the data from these exercises, connect with your mid-level and senior-level managers to talk about the conscious and subconscious biases that can creep in in a hybrid work setting and how to mitigate these biases.
#2 Level the playing field!
- Set objective performance-evaluation parameters: Meeting fewer employees regularly than others can create a subconscious familiarity bias that can put remote employees at a disadvantage. Set up smart goals/OKRs and evaluate performance based on its completion. An objective criterion brings everyone on a common baseline regardless of their work preferences. It’s always a wise choice to evaluate performance with data rather than siding with a manager’s perception
- Mandate equal remote working days for all: Once you evaluate your organizational structure to identify the teams that can sustain remote/hybrid work settings, mandate the number of remote working days for all employees, including the leadership. To mitigate the proximity bias, ensure that everyone regardless of their gender exercises their remote working days.
- Set up a “Prime Time”: Ensure that you clearly call out a prime time where every member of every team is present physically or virtually, to take key business decisions so that each member can contribute.
#3 Reimagine company benefits and policies!
- Employee Wellbeing Support: The pandemic has been difficult for each one of us in its own ways. Leaders and organizations must ensure that they provide a safe space for all employees to help them be their best.
- Childcare Opportunities: It might be the right time to amp up childcare facilities for organizations. Providing more workplace childcare options and facilitating cohesion and trust among remote and office workers will ensure you retain a part of the workforce that is just about to resign.
It is no surprise that diversity in the team leads to enhanced decision making, and business performance. A diverse team is able to evaluate key decisions from multiple lenses, bring in innovation, and in turn avoid groupthink.