Diversity & Inclusion

COVID-19 Has Compromised Gender Inequality—Now, Organizations Must Stem the Tide

There is no question that COVID-19 will go down in history as a preeminent event that completely disrupted corporate culture. The moment the “shelter in place” ordinances took hold in spring 2020, the workplace as we knew it disappeared, and our homes became the bedrock of, well, everything, including office and classroom space.

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Unfortunately, this massive shift impacted women more than men: The coronavirus increased the unemployment rate for women, as well as put undue pressure on female workers to juggle their caretaker and career roles.

For instance, when state and city governments closed down numerous retail and hospitality organizations in March 2020 to curb the spread of the virus, 60% of the jobs eliminated in the first wave of layoffs were held by women. According to a report by CNBC, women accounted for 52% of the industry workforce and made up 54% of job losses. For the first time since 1986, the female labor force participation rate dipped below 55%.

Not only were women affected by job losses, but their role as “unpaid” caretakers also became more pronounced as schools shuttered, putting children under the care of their parents 24/7.  According to a recent survey reported by Forbes, working moms are spending 15 more hours per week than working dads on child care.

Diversity Is Key in Today’s COVID-19 World

COVID-19’s impact on women is an imposition not just for individuals and families but also for the economy. Studies have proven that a diverse workforce is a tremendous asset. For instance, McKinsey research found that gender diversity promotes financial success: “Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability.”

In fact, studies have shown that women who engage in multiple roles in their lives are often more dedicated and hardworking. Putting into place more agile benefits and schedules can help offset the challenges employees may encounter in their personal lives.

The fact is that COVID-19 is still a part of life and will be for the foreseeable future. As such, companies must take a hard look at how they engage, hire, train, and motivate their employees to rectify and replace challenges during the pandemic with a more flexible and agile working environment.

Below are strategies organizations can engage in to help their employees during COVID-19 and beyond:

Build a culture of inclusion with the right HR tools. Part of building a culture of diversity and inclusion is utilizing software and technology solutions that can help facilitate dynamic teams in which everyone thrives, regardless of gender.

Many of today’s artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled tools can help eliminate the biases that crop up during talent decision processes. In addition, HR platforms and tools can help businesses deliver on diversity targets, as well as maximize their succession planning.

Develop a talent marketplace. Another means to promote career development for all is a willingness to ensure everyone has equal access and visibility to opportunities across the workplace. This can be accomplished via a transparent talent marketplace.

A talent marketplace goes beyond just announcing job vacancies—it provides employees with a holistic view of an organization’s many prospects. By showcasing these opportunities to everyone, a company creates a democratic marketplace open to all.

Flexibility to accommodate child care and homeschooling. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that a workforce can be incredibly flexible. As stated in Forbes, work is something we do, not somewhere we go, and employees have proven they are capable of being just as efficient while working from home.

That same attitude of flexibility as it relates to where we work should also be taken into account when it comes to when we work to accommodate homeschooling and child care. Providing workers with more flexible deadlines, for instance, will go far in creating an inclusive environment.

Encourage open dialogue. Managers and supervisors need to continue to showcase how the organization values its employees by proactively implementing training and planned reviews instead of “waiting for an in-person meeting” to give staff a platform, providing employees with the opportunity to voice their concerns, share insights about their role in the organization, and discuss where they feel they add value.

The race to reskill. Reskilling can help all workers achieve the proficiencies they need to enhance their careers. Providing employees with access to tools and resources that promote career development and training will help an organization invest in its employees’ long-term career growth.

While the coronavirus resulted in significant setbacks to gender equality in the workplace, companies can still take a proactive approach to rapidly address these issues. Organizations that strive to encourage all employees, regardless of gender or race, are on the road to a more profitable future.

As stated in Harvard Business Review, “Greater gender equality is good for the economy and society as a whole. If we act now to remove barriers to greater female labor-force participation and a bigger role in society, we can reap the economic and social benefits.”

Anne Fulton is founder and CEO of Fuel50, one of the fastest-growing HR technology vendors in the world. The company offers an award-winning Fuel50 career experience platform that delivers engagement and increases retention with employees. Fulton and her team are dedicated to improving employee engagement, supporting diversity initiatives, and creating career acceleration programs for employees, whether they are high potentials, talent, graduates, or emerging leaders. After deployment of its technology, Fuel50 customers experience up to a 30% increase in employee engagement and a 60% average reduction in churn.

Fulton is an experienced registered organizational psychologist, an executive career and performance coach, and a strategic contributor to organizational development strategies that have resulted in tangible returns on investment and, in particular, engagement uplifts in multiple organizations. She is recognized as a global expert in talent management systems from onboarding, performance, and succession and talent planning, consulting with many of the world’s thought-leading organizations. 

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