2020 was a year like no other. The challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with schools closed, high rates of unemployment, and the racial inequality movement has meant most workplaces were turned upside down. Many companies went remote and are staying remote indefinitely.
Unfortunately too, women seemed to take the biggest hit from those changes. According to the
2020 Women in the Workplace study, women were the most impacted. “Women—especially women of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis.” Working mothers, if they still had their jobs, also often took on double duty—working at home while also navigating monitoring their children as they did virtual learning. Some mothers also had to quit their jobs because school and daycare closures meant that there would be no one to watch their children while they worked away from the home, or they were concerned about the risk of COVID-19 exposure if they were essential workers.
As women were laid off, furloughed, or had to step back or down in order to accommodate the needs of their family, their career progression and financial security were hindered.
In 2021 as restrictions ease, companies, schools, and businesses resume in-person, women have more needs today in the workplace than ever before.
Here are three things that companies must consider if they want to keep women in leadership roles and progress toward greater diversity—both in terms of gender as well as racial.
What 2020 should have taught us is that remote working is not only possible, but should be an option, especially in these still uncertain times. Women, in particular, must have the flexibility to accommodate the needs of their families—in the event schools close again, for example—as well as the option to remain at home instead of return to the office. In one study, 21% of women desired their workplace to offer the option for flexible schedules/remote work options and 48% wanted monetary support for establishing a home office.
Flexibility is even more important for non-white women as they took on full childcare duties 8% more than white respondents.
2. More professional development opportunities
According to the 2020 Women in the Workplace study, women continue to struggle in their initial promotion to manager. “For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted.” Dubbed the “broken rung,” women significantly struggle to make it to the entry-level management positions.
Because of this, women want—and need— more professional development opportunities to help them progress in their careers. Bonus points if these are offered flexibly, online, or during working hours to accommodate her schedule.
Another aspect women are often missing is direct mentorship or coaching. Human Resources departments might consider hiring executive or career coaches to better assist their women employees during this time. They may also want to make mentorship a formal aspect of the company culture that starts when new employees are hired and continues until they are promoted to a certain level of management.
Whether it be how to advance, salary specifics, or the company’s stance on racial and gender inequality, women want to know what is going behind the scenes at their place of employment. Many companies say they offer just this, but don’t in actuality.
It makes sense that women would not want to sign onto a career today at a company that isn’t clear about where a corporation stands. They’re tired of gender inequality preventing them from advancing or finding out that they’re still paid less than similarly experienced colleagues or that the company’s commitment to racial equality was all just words.
Women, especially women of color, want to see themselves represented. They will be attracted to companies that follow their words with actions. Thankfully, too, many companies that have come forward do also have more diverse workforces.
The crises of last year should encourage companies to consider new opportunities for the women in their workplace. 2020 should teach us all the importance of being able to change at a moment’s notice, but also consider more deeply the impact the events of last year had on women in particular. Moving more solidly into 2021, every company should be working toward encouraging diversity and meeting the specific needs of their female employees.