Equality at a Major Intersection
The sixth annual study, Woman in the Workplace, by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, grabbed more attention than usual since the heightened awareness was given to diversity and equality in the workplace. Most alarming was that more than 25% of women polled said they were considering decelerating their careers and even stepping out totally. Earlier studies showed that men and women were leaving the workforce at the same rate. However, researchers now estimate that female exodus could be as high as 2 million women.
The latest research cited the pandemic as the reason for this shift but went on to report that not only have women been shaken more deeply, but that women of color were particularly affected. It identified the root of this to the disparate impact of the pandemic on the Black community, coupled with the mental and emotional stress of ongoing racial violence incidents.
While declaring this an emergency for companies at risk of losing women in leadership positions and progress made over the years, researchers also said there were opportunities for companies to step forward.
Address the Cause
Although companies have stepped up technical additions, communications, and employee relation efforts with workers during the pandemic, most have not recognized and addressed the underlying causes of stress and burnout. This goes beyond offering counseling and training to support good mental health.
The latest study found that only a few companies considered or adjusted what they believed to be the major cause, which they identified as employer expectations during the pandemic. For example, they reported that less than 33% of employers modified their performance reviews’ criteria in recognition and consideration of the challenges and changes created by the pandemic and remote work being performed. Of those employers that did make changes, only about half-informed employees of the change.
The findings portend that many workers who are caregivers or parents of young children are faced with the choice of not meeting pre-pandemic performance goals and expectations that today may not be reasonable or realistic. Many bear the added pressure of trying to accelerate to a pace they’re unable to maintain.
Other Financial Anxiety
The study found that about half the employers set up programs like increasing paid leave to help employees. Another third added rewards for those working remotely. These help, but companies struggling financially may not institute the same, much less institute these extra incentives.
Women with children are even more seriously affected. The study showed that more than half the mothers who are part of a dual-career couple spend as much as five hours or more daily on household chores. Not surprisingly, the impact is even greater on single mothers.
In an earlier study, McKinsey found that a company’s financial performance and profits are nearly 50% higher when women are well-represented at senior levels of an organization. They also bring an invaluable perspective to the table and champion other women-related initiatives at the company.
Companies concerned about equality and diversity should heed the findings of this study and immediately consider instituting supplemental programs and policies that will reduce their employees’ stress levels, especially women. Revising performance goals in recognition of the pandemic and alerting employees of this would also help.