Employers can help women avoid being unfairly punished for the challenges they face

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By Michele Ruiz

As the economy emerges from Covid-19 closures and restrictions, and businesses begin to bring back employees and resume hiring, it is essential to redouble vigilance to ensure that women in the workforce are not unfairly punished professionally or economically for facing the unique challenges of the pandemic. At stake is not just the economic advancement of women, but the financial viability of the millions of employers who depend on their critical expertise and contribution to work.

Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women. When Covid-19 started last March, women held more jobs than men for the first time since 2010. A year later, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women lost a million more jobs than men, including 156,000 job losses in December 2020. According to a McKinsey & Co Report, women account for 39% of global employment but account for 54% of all job losses. Some economists predict that this pandemic could set back women by an entire generation.

This is a problem for many companies who have worked hard to hire, retain and promote women in their organizations in recent years. And when you consider that working women contribute almost $ 8 trillion annual GDP, it is a national crisis which will require from all of us significant measures to face it.

Care needs and stereotypes negatively impact women

So how has unconscious bias lead to more workforce issues for women? For starters, Covid-19 created an almost impossible challenge that highlighted how accountability for caregiving fuels inequalities. One reason is that the pandemic has increased the burden of unpaid care for children, the elderly and the sick, which is disproportionately borne by women. Not to mention the fact that it is now very clear that distance learning places a heavy burden on women, who have also taken on the role of teachers and tutors. Suddenly, their responsibilities were to closely monitor the children to make sure they were following their lessons and schoolwork.

Many types of gender bias arise under normal circumstances, and they have been magnified recently for many women: maternal bias, parental bias, bias in performance reviews and project assignments. Managers may be overconfident in their ability to make unbiased judgments and not realize that they have unconscious gender stereotypes. Whether they realize it or not, managers often see women as the primary caretakers of the family and perpetuate the male “think-manager-think-man” perspective – especially in organizations where the majority of leadership positions are held. occupied by men.

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Women are more likely to work part time to find family balance. They are often the school’s first phone call when their child is sick. While many men also take on these responsibilities, societal biases assume that women will carry the personal burden. Gender roles like this haven’t disappeared just because women have established their place in the workforce, whether as CEOs, treating patients in emergency rooms or at waiting tables. Women often achieve a kind of balance. Getting there takes commitment, determination, sacrifice and creativity – all strengths employers should appreciate. Yet this reality places women at a perceived disadvantage.

In addition to these basic gender stereotypes, more women than men, mostly black and latina women, work in sectors hardest hit by Covid: hospitality, travel and tourism, and retail. Combine that with home schooling, no daycare and no home help for elderly parents and you have the perfect storm. Many of these frontline jobs don’t offer perks like paid time off and can’t be done remotely, forcing many families and single moms to make tough decisions: care for the family or themselves. present at work?

Since many employers cannot afford to keep a full staff and women take time off to stay home and care for their families, they are often the first to be fired or laid off. It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that only women in less skilled jobs have been seriously affected. Women in professional positions – such as lawyers, doctors and executives – have also come under enormous pressure. They are often faced with long hours and a very stressful job, to cope with the same family demands as soon as they arrive home.

Women also face a new gender equality issue linked to the pay gap. According to a recent study called the State of the Gender Wage Gap 2020, last year, women earned 81 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The study also reported that women often incur a wage penalty after returning to work after a significant absence, earning 7% less on average than men in the same job. As many women have had to quit their jobs to care for children during the pandemic, it will be extremely difficult for some skilled women who re-enter the workforce to get job offers and negotiate higher wages. high.

Mitigate gender bias after Covid

So how can employers ensure that they don’t make a bad situation worse and undo years of progress by negatively impacting women as we return to work? The first step is to do Something! It seems obvious, but the cost of inaction is too high not to take some action against gender inequalities. Not to mention that your employees will appreciate the efforts made to improve gender equality in the company.

Here are some specific ideas presented in a Harvard Business School article titled “Don’t let the pandemic undermine gender equality: “

  1. Track the data: Review what has happened in your business over the past year during the Covid-19 pandemic. Have more women left because of problems at home? Have you unintentionally left more women than men? When hiring, do you maintain gender equality in terms of title and remuneration? Answering these questions and providing employees with a gender bias assessment and training to reduce it will help you avoid gender inequalities after Covid.
  2. Create and maintain flexible working hours: The pandemic has proven to all of us that it is possible and often productive to work from home and have flexible hours to ensure work-life balance. As we come out of Covid, maintain such policies to ensure that women are not unfairly punished by the perception or reality that they need more work-life balance than men.
  3. Listen: Create a work environment where all of your employees, and especially women, can openly discuss their “unpaid care” issues and other challenges. Let them know that you understand and sympathize with them, and they won’t be penalized for sharing their thoughts on how these challenges affect them.
  4. Provide resources on health and wellness: More than ever, companies must ensure the mental and physical health and well-being of their employees. The effects of the pandemic and its impact on women workers will be present for the foreseeable future and must be addressed.

Gender equality could boost the global economy

One thing is certain is that allowing gender inequalities to impact the workforce after Covid will have a detrimental impact on the economy in general. The same McKinsey study mentioned above estimates that if the current state of “gender regression” is not addressed, global GDP could be $ 1 trillion lower by 2030; Conversely, if action is taken, global GDP could improve by $ 13 trillion by 2030. So let’s act for women – and we will all benefit.

About the Author

Michele Ruiz is a former Emmy Award-winning audiovisual journalist and CEO of BiasSync, a science-based technology platform to measure, assess, train and mitigate unconscious bias in the workplace. See Michele’s articles and full biography on AllBusiness.com and follow her on Twitter @ MicheleRuiz01.

RELATED: Is gender inequality more of a problem in your business than you might think?

This article was originally published on AllBusiness.com.





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