My sister recently contributed to humanity from the back room of my house.
We both work remotely, so she made the drive from California to Colorado to stay with me for a couple weeks. I’ve always admitted to her that I have no clue what she does. That’s still true.
I work in the health sciences field and she works in the business arena. She is a consultant for a large firm. She travels to various places and networks with poised, intelligent people; she, herself, is poised and intelligent. This is the extent of my understanding.
Per usual, I attempted to learn, at least enough to be polite.
“So, what is it that you’re doing in the back room, exactly?”
“I’m working on a report, the Women in the Workplace report. It’s done annually to get a snapshot of how working women are doing. This year, though, is especially important with the virus and the racially charged events going on. We are analyzing and reporting how it’s affecting women. We’re especially curious about working mothers and women of diverse races and ethnicities.”
“How does one analyze the effect of COVID-19 on professional women from the back office of my home in the mountains?” Ashley smiled that type of you’re-a-jackass smile that only a sister can punch out. She’s inherited the gift for patience from our father. Unfortunately, I did not.
“We interview women from hundreds of companies who participate voluntarily. I transcribe the interviews and use them for case studies. Later, we’ll turn all these conversations into quantifiable data.”
The report is done and published. While I know that my sister is crème de la crème, well, this report is pure mana for the times.
Ironically, it came to me personally at a much-needed time. My workplace rolled out a decision to require a new board certification as a prerequisite for our job. To clarify, this is a prerequisite for our current job—the one we already have. We have one year to study for, take, and pass this difficult, board-medicine-level exam.
What makes me more fiery is a handful of the dietitians on my team—that superhero genre type of female—are mothers of small children working full-time. COVID-19 has been a special kind of hell for these powerful humans, who have all but crumbled between providing full-time child care, homeschooling, and balancing full-time work and housework. Now, they also are supposed to somehow study for a medical board exam in their “spare time.”
My dilemma lays in knowing that nobody wants to be the one to stir the pot, me included. I am feisty, but much less feisty without a job. Yet, we can’t leave it to those same women to have to stir the pot for themselves—wouldn’t that also put them at a further risk of losing ground (or their jobs) when they’re already at-risk?
Enter the Women in the Workplace report. As my eyes devoured each section, every cell in my being shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Within 20 minutes of reading, I forwarded the link to each manager in my company.
Disclosure: I tend to be a bit “controversially spirited”—it has since come to my attention that forwarding this via email to management was a bold move. I do not regret my decision.
The Key Findings of the Women in the Workplace Report:
>> Women—especially women of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19.
>> One in four women are considering leaving their jobs or downshifting in response to the additional home burdens imposed by COVID-19. This is unique; in the six annual studies done prior, women and men were found to be leaving their jobs at similar rates—not anymore.
>> Women are more likely than men to be spending up to an additional three hours daily—that’s 20 hours per week—on housework and homeschooling.
The top five predictive factors for women being pushed out of the workforce are:
>> Lack of flexibility at work.
>> Feeling the need to always be “on” at all hours.
>> Housework and caregiving burdens due to COVID-19.
>> Worry that their performance is being seen negatively due to increased caregiver burdens.
>> Discomfort opening up about challenges with teammates or managers.
>> Feeling blindsided by decisions affecting their day-to-day work.
>> An inability to bring their whole self to work—to be seen as a mother, person of color, person with disability—as well as an employee.
Companies are dropping the ball in supporting women.
Less than a third of managers have adjusted performance criteria to account for the additional burdens of COVID-19, and only about half actually informed employees of any adjusted expectations.
Recommended Actions Managers Should Take:
“The choices companies make could shape the workplace for women for decades to come—for better or worse.” ~ Women in the Workplace, 2020
1. Adjust daily productivity standards—communicate this to employees.
2. Reset the norms in flexibility: for time off, for work hours, and for yourself. Employees who observe their managers taking advantage of flexibility feel more confident in their ability to practice this themselves, without fear of retaliation.
3. Adjust performance review criteria.
4. Minimize gender bias: track promotions and performance reviews to analyze any gender or racial discrepancies. Participate in bias training to help identify and correct any unrealized gender bias.
5. Adjust programs to better support employees; take a hard look at policies around sick leave, paid-time off, mental health counseling, and parenting or childcare resources. Make adjustments where able.
6. Strengthen employee communication. When employees feel surprised at workplace decisions, they are three times more likely to be unhappy with their job. Keep two-way communication flowing. Practice empathy so that employees feel seen and heard.
7. Support Black women! These women are facing the same challenges as all women are facing—including the added challenge of being Black in the workplace. Black women face more systemic barriers, receive less managerial support, and experience more discrimination. Foster a company that fully includes Black women by addressing and communicating this need head-on with employees. Make sure that Black women get the same formal support as well as informal support, such as a casual, “How are things going for you?” that white women do.
If you’re afraid of the topic of race, it’s on you to take a training. Find one online, research one in your area—do it stat!
Above all, do not leave it up to your female employees—the ones who are already disadvantaged—to sound the alarm. It is up to you to ask the hard questions. Listen to their answers. Offer them solutions.
If you are a working woman, this report is healing in its reassurance that, at this point, struggle is the norm. Even if this isn’t talked about at work—you are not alone.
If you are not a woman, I hope you read this and realize the empathy and teamwork needed to navigate these times.
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it:
“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Stand with women.
And should you email a link to your manager in a flurry of “hell yes’s,” well, while perhaps not recommended, it’s commendable—I’d most definitely buy you a drink.
*Click here to read the full Women in the Workplace report. This report analyzes data from 317 United States companies and over 30,000 employees.