Earlier this month, National Women’s Law Center reported that since February 2020, women have lost over 5.4 million net jobs and account for 55% of overall net job loss since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women of color are bearing the brunt of these job losses, with 8.4% of black women and 9.1% of Latina women 20 years or older experiencing unemployment in December.
Women’s employment is dropping faster than average, even accounting for the fact that women and men often work in different sectors. If companies are not incredibly proactive in taking measures to offset the negative impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce, this disparity will certainly grow in 2021, especially if a vaccine cannot be widely distributed.
Companies must now take steps to self-educate on the negative impact of COVID-19 on women in the workforce and address the underlying causes with policies, new initiatives, and greater sensitivity to challenges.
Measures to Help Offset Negative Impact
At Wizeline, we are reliant on our talent to build powerful technology that will enable our clients to expand their global digital capabilities. Our business is built on the principle that great talent is evenly distributed, while opportunities are not. With this in mind, we are committed to expanding the pipeline of diverse talent by providing opportunities not only for growth within Wizeline but also for cultivating talent within the communities where we operate.
Our efforts include a focus on initiatives that expand the funnel of women talent. One such initiative, our Women in Tech leadership program, provides educational and mentorship opportunities that help develop women leaders.
Another initiative, our apprenticeship program, focuses on hiring and training women in partnership with our clients. This is a collaborative approach through which both Wizeline and our clients benefit by improving gender representation and building a more diverse perspective into our collective engineering teams.
Take a Fresh Look at Employee Resources
Post COVID-19, however, I predict that it will not be enough to merely continue prior initiatives. We have all seen the numbers, and it’s clear that we need to address special issues facing women in the workplace, especially issues around caregiving, which fall disproportionately on women.
For example, while companies previously had a dedicated childcare facility in their offices, leaders will need to take a fresh look at how to extend these childcare benefits so that remote workers can benefit. Companies might also address caregivers’ needs by establishing a new employee resource group (ERG) geared to them.
This ERG can facilitate the enhancement of policies and benefits to improve working conditions for caregivers, implement various initiatives, and facilitate a community among caregivers within which resources, advice, connections, and support can be shared.
Another way companies might support women post-COVID-19 is by providing educational and fun ways to keep children busy while parents are working. We have recently been looking at comprehensive educational platforms that offer learning opportunities for our employees. Perhaps there are also resources that can be provided to the children of those employees.
For example, my friend Donna Friedman Meir, a seasoned children’s media executive who has embarked on a start-up focused on experiential entertainment for kids, has a wonderful idea for a virtual camp, the intent of which is to get kids away from more passive, sit-on-the-couch time killers and really engage them in activities such as physical play, immersive in-home projects, and independent explorations.
And finally, companies will certainly be looking at ways to make remote work more friendly and manageable. This includes rolling out calendar tools to facilitate the scheduling of heads-down work and free time, as well.
And, it will also involve taking a closer look at the biases that come into play around the ability of working mothers to get the job done. This becomes particularly important as restrictions are lifted and employees begin to come back to physical offices. We want to ensure that the culture of our companies embraces rather than stigmatizes remote work and that opportunities to advance are provided based on merit—regardless of whether an employee is working remotely—and not based on face time within the office.
The important point is that we listen, understand the adverse impact of COVID-19 on women, continuously review the data, and ensure we take action on a regular basis designed to specifically and quickly address the underlying cause of any such adverse impact so that we can ensure a healthy and diverse workplace where women can succeed and thrive.
Lin Cherry is Chief Legal Officer at Wizeline. She oversees all legal matters for the company and has worked as an international corporate lawyer for over 20 years across technology, media, and sports. Before Wizeline, Cherry served as general counsel at HBO Latin America; DLA, Inc. (a subsidiary of América Móvil); and MySpace. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from The George Washington University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida.