More than 1 in 4 women may bow out of the workforce or put the brakes on their careers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, you read that correctly. Over 25% of working females may quit working or change jobs due to COVID-19-related impacts.
McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report explains why women are considering changing their approach to work, what it could mean for businesses, and what companies can do to support women.
Impact on Mothers
Balancing childcare responsibilities with a career is a constant struggle for working parents. With pandemic rules at play, whatever balance there was has disappeared. Many children remain at home as daycares and schools struggle to stay open. Thus parents must juggle monitoring their children’s remote learning and their own jobs. The result? Parenting has become a 24×7 task in addition to the duties of the paying job.
According to the McKinsey report, moms feel the impact more than dads: “76% of mothers with children under age 10 say childcare is one of their top 3 challenges during COVID-19, compared to 54% of fathers with young children.” It’s no surprise then that mothers, especially the 1 in 5 who are the only parent in the household, report spending up to 20 hours a week on housework and childcare.
So 40+ hours of paid work plus another half-shift for parental responsibilities. This draining schedule has 1 in 3 mothers contemplating leaving the workforce or altering their job.
Think about your own business—can you risk losing a third of your female employees who have children?
Impact on Minorities
Before the pandemic, many historically marginalized employees already faced systematic racism and fewer opportunities in the workforce, which meant working harder to prove themselves and advance their careers.
COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted minority groups with more illnesses and deaths. Black women more often report being “unable to bring whole self to work,” such as sharing their personal experiences—including caregiving stressors and grief—with coworkers.
Latina and Black women, who are more likely to be the only household income or the at-home parent, bear a higher percentage of the responsibility for childcare and housework: “Latina mothers are 1.6 times more likely than white mothers to be responsible for all childcare and housework, and Black mothers are twice as likely to be handling all of this for their families.”
If you add in fear for their safety, then it’s no surprise Black women feel unsupported at work as less than 1/3 have reported that their managers have asked them about the nationwide racial violence. Similarly, many do not feel that there is an “inclusive culture on their team.”
Impact on Businesses
What’s the downside to losing women in the workforce? With the US September unemployment rate hovering at 7.9%, won’t there be plenty of males to fill the void?
From a financial perspective, McKinsey reports “that company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well represented at the top.” What business wouldn’t want to implement a strategy (supporting women) to boost their financial well-being by 50%?
The impact of women in the workforce goes beyond finances—the report shows that women act as allies for other women and minorities. Senior-level female executives are more likely than males to push for employee-friendly policies and to take action to support racial and gender equality, including mentoring women of color.
Fewer women in the workforce perpetuates scenarios where a woman or minority may be the only representation in a tier of the workforce, in a meeting, or on a project. This can translate to the woman feeling the need to work harder to prove herself, resulting in burnout.
The report also indicates the potential for more gender inequality for managerial positions. At the start of 2020, only 38% of manager-level positions were held by women. The “broken rung” issue, a gap that prevents women from stepping onto the executive track, will be further perpetuated by a smaller pool of women in the workforce.
What’s the impact on your business beyond watching knowledge walk out the door? How about cold hard cash? Customers, already using their dollars to vote for sustainable products, are being driven by the pandemic and national events to support businesses that take care of their employees and encourage diversity. Being perceived as a company that didn’t support women won’t bode well with those customers.
How Businesses Can Support Women
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every business. Most companies have responded to employee needs during the pandemic by providing remote work options (where viable) and offering more paid leave and mental-health counseling.
But employees still feel burnt-out, so companies should address that. McKinsey recommends revising productivity expectations and performance review criteria to help reduce employee stress during the pandemic.
For example, maybe in the “before” times, service level agreements (SLAs) required 30-minute response time to non-critical service requests. If your employees now work flexible hours, is that still required? If not, have your employees been clearly told what the new SLAs are?
Changing productivity expectations to meet pandemic needs can help reduce feeling the need to always “be on.’. But it only works if there are remote team guidelines in place and remote team communication is modeled by senior management. If a manager nags for a response to an email sent 10 minutes ago, then it may be difficult for employees to believe “flexible” applies to hours and location.
With McKinsey reporting that less than 1/3 of companies have adjusted their performance review process and only about 50% have updated employees on expectations for productivity and performance reviews, there is a lot of room for improvement.
Companies also need to address employees’ unique needs. Diversity programs often focus on metrics for either gender or race. However, Black women are at the cross-section of diversity and gender and would benefit most from diversity programs that recognize this.
It won’t be an easy shift to make, but businesses need to take steps now to support women in the workforce. Ethically, morally, and financially it’s what needs to be done to improve gender equality and boost your business’s success.