The last year has been challenging for everyone in the workforce, but the effects of COVID-19 have had a disproportionately high impact on women. Overall, more than two million women have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. According to NPR, in September 2020 alone, 865,000 women left the workforce—a rate four times that of men. This is a significant step backward for gender equality in the workplace, given that in February 2020, before the pandemic struck, there were actually more women than men in the U.S. workforce.
Many women have lost their jobs, but according to the labor economist Martha Gimbel, the driving factor for women’s high attrition rates is household management: “They can’t send their kids to school. Someone has to supervise the learning. Someone has to deal with the cooking. Someone has to deal with the cleaning, and it’s falling onto them.”
These expectations aren’t always the result of skewed gender dynamics with the home; instead, a number of systematic factors affect families’ decisions. Because of the gender wage gap, women frequently earn less than their partners, so it’s easier for the family to cope with the loss of a woman’s salary. Moreover, men tend to hold jobs more conducive to remote work (e.g., STEM professions), while women tend to hold higher-risk positions where face-to-face interaction is necessary (e.g., nursing, teaching).
So many women’s careers have been decimated that reformers have called on President Biden to recognize the situation as a “national crisis.” In response to this crisis, employers must ask, “How can we make this moment an opportunity? How can we support the women in our midst, make their lives easier, and prevent an even more catastrophic loss of talent?” At InfoTrust, we continue to focus on implementing new policies, initiatives, and practices designed to support women in the workplace. Below, I’ll offer insight into four actions that your company can embrace, not only to retain female employees but also to encourage them to thrive.
1. Start a Lean-In Group
Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and the organization of the same name, InfoTrust hosts a monthly Lean-In group for women. The idea behind this group is to provide women with a space to connect with one another, share their career and personal difficulties, and find new solutions to the workplace challenges they face.
Each month, the group tackles a specific topic relevant to women in the workplace, like “The Power of No,” “Preparing to Lead,” or “Recognizing Unconscious Bias.” These sessions are led by an employee facilitator who has particular insight into the issue. For example, in a recent Lean-In meeting, one of my colleagues led us through a career-planning exercise she found inspiring. Using this method, we each drafted our career aspirations and discussed ways that we can support each other in achieving those goals.
Between meetings, we also connect through a designated Slack channel, where we share insights, information, and casual conversations. Not only does the Lean-In group aid professional development, but it also helps the women in the organization form closer relationships and find healthy ways to address personal and professional challenges.
2. Offer a Family/Child Stipend
When the pandemic began, we conducted a survey to find out which members of the organization were in need of the most assistance. Far and away, we found that women and families needed some additional support. We set a $25,000 budget, and employees recommended a plan for allocating the money. People opted into the program, and the amount of money families received depended on the number of people in their household. So, for example, a family with three children would receive more support than a family with one child. We also provided gift cards for meals from Instacart and DoorDash to relieve parents of the constant burden of meal-planning and grocery shopping.
Later in the year, we offered a second stipend called COVID-Care. Based on the fact that children under the age of twelve require childcare, we decided to offer those families some more financial support. We added COVID-Care funds to the paychecks of anyone with a child under age twelve.
Even though these actions targeted a particular subset of employees, it quickly became apparent that the stipends benefited everyone. For women at InfoTrust, it provided resources to relieve some at-home pressures. For men at InfoTrust, it did the same, and it also relieved pressure for their partners. Team members without young children benefited because their colleagues were able to stay on top of work without additional stress.
3. Create Flexible Working Hours
In order to keep women in the workplace, it’s necessary to acknowledge the new demands that are being made on their time. A hard-and-fast 9-to-5 schedule simply isn’t feasible in a home filled with children and other family members. Flexibility is crucial for any organization that wants employees to work to the best of their abilities in this stressful time.
Before the pandemic began, InfoTrust already embraced flexible working hours, but during the last year, we have fully embraced the flexible model. Now, we record meetings so people can watch them at their convenience. We’ve also made it easier for employees to build their schedules around their personal needs. For example, if a parent needs to help with remote learning during the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., they could block those regular responsibilities off on their calendars. They can make up the work later in the day, and their colleagues will know to schedule any meetings around those blocks of time.
In essence, we’ve expanded what we were already doing in terms of flexible hours, in order to enable more freedom in working hours and how people work.
4. Partner with Other Organizations
Unfortunately, there’s not much data available about how women in the analytics field are compensated for their work, and we wanted to be a part of the effort to collect that information. So, recently, we participated in a compensation study run by the organization Women in Analytics, which is part of the Digital Analytics Association. Having compensation data enables InfoTrust to be market competitive when it comes to hiring and evaluating the compensation of our employees. More generally, it also allows for improved transparency around discussions about pay equity and gender.
Look for opportunities to partner with other organizations who are working to support women in the workplace. Structural inequalities cannot be remedied by one company alone. When we work together to address persistent problems, more women will benefit, and they will do so faster.
There’s No Better Time to Start Supporting Women
International Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8, 2021, began as a means of drawing awareness to the challenges and biases that women face. This year, those challenges are especially acute. With women leaving the workforce in unprecedented numbers, there’s no better time to start facing gender-related challenges head-on. International Women’s Day is more than a day to buy the special women in your life flowers. CEO Alex Yastrebenetsky has made efforts to ensure that women at InfoTrust are valued and understood. He shares what International Women’s Day means to him and his perspective as a CEO in this article.
Companies can—and should—dedicate themselves to finding new ways out of this crisis. Women are valuable members of the workforce, and it’s critical for companies to ensure that their valuable female employees feel supported, strong, and fulfilled, especially in this uncertain moment.