How to support women in the workplace during the pandemic
Written by: Clare Chong
Most women who take career breaks may do so due to a myriad of reasons ranging from childcare, taking care of elderly parents, or pursuing higher education. However, when they wish to return to the workforce, they face many challenges and discrimination. According to a 2017 white paper conducted in Asia, 46 percent of hiring managers in Asia had not employed any returning women in the previous year. Even for those who manage to return to the workplace, women also often get the shorter end of the stick as they get passed over for promotion or have to accept a lower salary as they return to the workforce. Furthermore, a survey conducted amongst 300 C-suite professionals worldwide in 2021 found that 4 in 5 respondents agreed that the pandemic has negatively impacted women’s progress in the workplace even though 67 percent of leaders believed that women are juggling more professional and personal responsibilities than men.
So how do we help support women in the workplace during the pandemic?
1) Take active and specific steps in supporting women’s advancement in the workplace
Leaders must go beyond expressing support and take responsibility for creating a more inclusive workplace and ensuring equal opportunities for career advancement across the organisation. In the 2021 study above, only 25 percent of respondents are promoting women and only 12 percent are advocating for equal wages for women. There should also be specific and tangible plans in place to ensure women’s future advancement other than building confidence and giving encouragement to female counterparts.
2) Ensure that remote working doesn't translate to fewer career advancement opportunities for women
While 97 percent of C-suite professionals reported that women in their organisations benefited from remote working, it may have come at the expense of career advancement. As many as 7 in 10 respondents said that remote workers may be passed over for leadership positions due to less physical visibility to those who are working in the office. It is thus extremely important for leaders to review new benchmarks for success and promotion with the advent of remote working instead of relying on outdated models of working. There should be greater emphasis on speed and quality of work outcomes rather than viewing the number of hours spent in the office as the sole yardstick.
3) Empathy goes on a long way in reducing burnout
Mental health issues and burnout are real struggles, especially during the pandemic, with 86 percent of respondents (not limited to women) remarking that there were changes in personal responsibilities ranging from caregiving to increased household responsibilities. 69 percent of respondents also say that pandemic-related stress was a direct contributor to burnout. High levels of burnout have also led to 1 in 3 women reporting that they are considering leaving the workforce or scaling back at work for a period of time which would have negative repercussions in widening the gender pay gap. Both men and women need further support from their organisations where there should be policies and practices in place to enhance flexibility while ensuring that employees are not unfairly penalised if they do take advantage of these flexible policies.
4) Prioritise Mentorship and Development
95 percent of leaders also reported that the pandemic has negatively impacted their abilities to be successful in achieving personal, team culture, and business leadership goals. While it’s natural to want to pause or get rid of anything that is not urgent when you are faced with endless challenges, mentoring and development sessions must continue. Leaders need to adopt a long-term approach and understand that the support given to their employees today would go a long way in ensuring that new talents (especially women) get groomed for the future.
What do you think of the above suggestions to enhance support for females in the workplace? Do you have other concrete practices and policies that can encourage women to re-enter the workforce and progress in their careers?