International Women’s Day: 4 Simple Steps to Supporting Women’s Careers During Covid-19

By Mark Probert

International Women’s Day 2021 is shining a light on how COVID19 is having a disproportionately negative impact on women. But what can employers do to help women achieve their career aspirations?

Original post featured in Inspiring Workplaces

Covid-19 has changed all aspects of our lives, especially the way we work. International Women’s Day is shining a light on how the pandemic is having a disproportionately negative impact on women. But what can employers do to help women achieve their career aspirations and maintain their performance levels? I hope this post will provide helpful guidance. 

After a year of the pandemic, I think we are all familiar with the issues of working from home whilst also home schooling or providing care for a loved one. One survey by Deloitte found that the number of women who say they are responsible for 75% or more of caregiving responsibilities (e.g. childcare or care of other family members) has nearly tripled to 48% during the pandemic compared to their caring  responsibilities prior to COVID-19. This has unsurprisingly impacted women’s career progression during the past year. In another survey conducted by LinkedIn and The Female Lead, almost half (41%) of women stated that they had considered leaving the workforce, either permanently or temporarily. The main reasons cited were stress (57%), too much responsibility at home and work (33%), and lack of childcare (14%).

And it’s not just career progression that has gone backwards. There has also been a concerning financial impact. The report, COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects, by McKinsey Global Institute, estimates that female job loss rates due to COVID-19 are about 1.8 times higher than male job loss rates globally.

In my view it would be a disaster if businesses didn’t do everything in their power to support women through this crisis. I believe that the organisations who do, will not only emerge stronger from the pandemic but stretch away from those who don’t.

So, on this very special International Women’s Day, I wanted to share four ways you can make sure you are supporting women’s career progression during Covid-19.

Make sure you understand and adjust to the context behind performance

The institute for fiscal studies tells us that women are more frequently interrupted during paid work. The research found that mothers combine paid work with other activities (almost always childcare) in 47% of their work hours, compared with 30% of fathers’ work hours.

This leads to measurable impacts on productivity and performance. So, I recommend that you identify the work: life context for each employee and agree on how work can be adjusted to fit that context. This will significantly reduce the stress associated with trying to sustain pre-pandemic working patterns. If you notice dips in performance, reach out to see if more support is needed, if working hours need to be adjusted, or other arrangement’s need to be made.

Be flexible about how you support learning and development so women can stay on track to achieving their career goals

The pandemic makes life stressful enough without women feeling that their career is also taking a back seat. So, I think it makes sense to ensure that training is available that enables women to stay on track with their career goals. It’s also important women are given access to training at times that suit and so they can complete training in their own time.

Have regular 1 on 1 check-ins that act like short coaching sessions

A couple of years ago we commissioned some research to understand what people want from their personal development process. The number one desire was to have regular check-ins with the line manager so that people understand how they are performing. That approach is more important now than ever before. It’s essential to keep performance management human.

So, I think line managers should have 121 sessions on a regular basis. These can make sure your people are getting the support they need and that you understand the context of their circumstances and how these have changed since the last 121. I also believe that these should also act as short coaching sessions that enable people to feel like they are continuously improving.

The study I mentioned above showed that people saw the main benefits of frequent 121s as: they can develop more quickly as they know where to focus; they feel more in control of their own development; they feel the company cares about their development and, they feel that the contribution they make is important to the company. All of the above will have a very positive impact on the challenges facing women and on their mental wellbeing.

Keep it flexible and proactive, even when life goes back to normal

I think the recommendations above are positive steps to ensuring the gender gap doesn’t widen during the pandemic. I also believe they can make a big difference as our lives begin to get back to normal. It’s essential that we take the learnings of the past year and continue to support women’s careers in a proactive way.

I hope these thoughts are helpful but would be delighted to hear any recommendations you may have.

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