To say that this year has been tough for everyone is an understatement. The Covid-19 pandemic has touched every single person in the world and has unapologetically changed everyone’s lives for the foreseeable future. From wearing masks at the grocery store, waving to your friends and family from a two metre distance, and saying “sorry, my wifi cut out” in zoom calls, are all aspects of everyday life that have changed. However, specific groups have been more affected than others. Women and specifically women of colour have been particularly affected by the pandemic. Senior level women are 38 percent more likely to mentor one or more women of colour compared to 23 percent of men. If we let women leave the workforce, this could have detrimental effects on an organization’s profits and overall work culture that we simply can’t afford. 

The challenges women face in the workplace have only intensified in the last six months. Many of these women are working mothers and are now working a “double shift” while balancing their careers, children and keeping up with their homes. As a result of this work/life imbalance, one in four women are contemplating leaving the workforce and leaving behind years of hard work. However, this is extremely alarming for corporate America.

Companies risk losing their women in leadership positions and unwinding all of the progress to implement gender diversity in the workplace. However, this presents itself as an opportunity for organizations. This is the time organizations need to invest in their talent to ensure women have the resources and flexibility during these times to ensure that they don’t leave the workplace. Employers need to foster a sense of nurture culture where women have an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential and career goals.

Losing women in the workforce would translate into a significant financial loss to companies. According to the research, company profits and share performance can be almost 50 percent higher when women are well represented at the top. Alongside the profit, women also carry a lot of importance when it comes to creating a positive work culture, employee-friendly policies, and champion racial and gender diversity.

6 Ways Employers can Support Women in the Workplace

  1. Make work more sustainable

Adapting the everyday work-life is essential when supporting women in the workplace. Employers might want to look at the productivity expectations before Covid-19 and adapt them to be more realistic. This might encompass resetting goals, narrowing project scopes or extending deadlines. Another way organizations can support employees is by offering “Covid-19 Days” to give parents a chance to catch-up with their home life or a day to simply recharge. 

2. Reset norms around flexibility

The pandemic has made it harder to strike a good work-life balance as employees might always feel like they are “on”. One way to help improve the balance is to establish set hours for meetings and responding to emails. Leaders can also communicate their support for workplace flexibility to help mitigate the feeling of “always being on” and that it is encouraged to take advantage of flexible work options. When employees believe their employers are supportive of their flexible practices, they are less likely to consider downshifting their careers or leaving. 

3. Take a close look at performance reviews

Performance reviews are a great tool to help gauge how your employees are doing and rewarding their contributions. However, with the shift to remote work, new challenges have risen and the old criteria before Covid-19 may no longer be applicable to today’s environment. Employers can relieve stress by making the performance criteria more attainable to help prevent anxiety and burnout. Ultimately, this can help with overall performance and productivity. 

4. Take steps to minimize gender bias

Throughout this pandemic, biases against women have been amplified and have shown up in new ways. Either kids playing in the background of zoom calls or co-workers assuming their colleagues are doing less work due to taking care of their children while working from home. Since there is less visibility into the day-to-day there leaves room for bias to creep in.

In order to mitigate the biases women face, managers need to ensure that their employees are aware of them. Employers should speak publicly about the impacts of biases, especially during the pandemic. Bias training and tracking promotions between genders is a good way to track if men and women are being treated fairly.

5. Adjust policies and programs to better support employees

Due to the pandemic and its changes to “normal life”, organizations have extended policies and benefits to help support their employees. Resources for mental health and homeschooling are examples of what organizations have in place to help with the new adjustments. As an employer, ensure that all your employees are made aware of the resources that are available to help them during these challenging times. Organizations should also determine if their resources and benefits are addressing the employee’s needs and reallocate time and money for the challenges your employees might need support in.

6. Strengthen employee communication

When shifting to remote work, communication with your employees is critical to ensure that they still feel connected with their managers and peers. One in five employees have consistently felt uninformed or in the dark during the Covid-19 pandemic. Leaders and HR teams should have regular communication and be empathetic towards their employees to make sure all team members feel valued and understood. It has been shown that this practice can reduce anxiety and build trust among teams.

Ensuring that women in the workforce don’t fall through the cracks is essential during the Covid-19 pandemic. All practices have to adapt to these unprecedented times to allow for more flexibility and understanding in the workplace. We have to ensure that we strive for gender equality in the workplace and that we have women paving the way for the younger generations. We have to look at each other as human beings and not just robots that work from 9 to 5. This pandemic is something that no one has ever experienced before and we are all learning how to maneuver through it the best way we can. Organizations need to adopt more flexible and accommodating practices to make sure all their employees can thrive in this new environment.