There have been an alarming number of articles recently about COVID-19 hitting women hardest, from carrying the additional domestic load at home, to disproportionate job losses and more often working in casual positions in the retail, hospitality and leisure industries.
Companies encounter an opportunity to be market leaders in shifting the gender paradigm, thereby attracting women who are in demand, and gaining an edge on competitors by reaping the rewards of a diverse workforce.
Why Women are Adversely Impacted
A recent report by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) highlighted the gendered impact of COVID-19.
WGEA found that women are more likely to increase their time spent on caring responsibilities including looking after sick family members, home-schooling tasks and managing the domestic load. This increased domestic activity then limits women’s earning opportunities, with many families making the economic decision for the man to continue working uninterrupted while the woman’s career takes a backseat to managing the increased workload in the home, resulting in more women leaving the workforce or working part-time.
Exiting from the workforce will have a direct impact on women in the leadership pipeline, diversity in future leadership teams and gender balance across all levels.
We’re seeing an exacerbation of gender inequalities due to the pandemic that could have a knock-on impact to diversity in the workplace longer term.
Why Women Matter at Work
It’s widely accepted now that having a diverse workforce improves business performance and innovation. Scott Page performed ground-breaking research in his book The Diversity Bonus, proving teams with a range of knowledge, skills and perspectives consistently outperform non-diverse teams. These capabilities are critical for business recovery, resilience and re-imagination.
Additionally, research by the Boston Consulting Group showed that revenue from innovation rises with diversity - including women - in leadership.
Research from McKinsey Global Institute found that women tend to demonstrate five of the nine types of leadership behaviors that improve organisational performance more often than men. Women also more frequently apply behaviours that most effectively address the global challenges of the future.
The opportunity: Leveraging I&D in the crisis
The workforce is acutely aware of how companies are supporting them and their families during this crisis, and how they enable a gender-neutral approach to domestic duties.
Inclusion and diversity provide an opportunity to:
- Show you care for and support your people.
- Shift the conversation to your longer-term strategy
- Drive sustainable change in female representation at work
Organisations will need enhanced problem-solving skills, vision and strategic thinking to address challenging business and environmental issues arising from COVID-19. Accessing the full spectrum of diverse talent will be even more critical.
McKinsey have identified three broad categories of I&D approaches emerging during COVID
Diversity winners and fast movers. These companies are pulling ahead of industry peers in financial performance. Their existing strengths in I&D will help them bounce back more quickly while they actively seek to boost representation and inclusion.
Moderate movers and resting on laurels. These organisations may continue to tread water and do little to build on their smaller I&D gains.
Laggards. With little to no progress in in gender and ethnic representation in the past five years, laggards may deprioritise I&D during the crisis.
There are financial, cultural and workforce benefits to making your company a diversity winner.
What Companies Can Be Doing
The most important thing to WORK180’s community is gender-neutral policies. Until it’s as common for men to take parental leave and work flexibly as it is for women, we’ll see women carry the bulk of the domestic load. Without being able to focus on their careers, women will be shut out of senior leadership positions.
Right now, you have an opportunity to:
- Focus on diversity and inclusion. Find innovative ways to attract, hire and retain talented women.
- Remain engaged with I&D and advance inclusive policies despite distractions
- Improve your global image
You will be seen as a market leader and the best women will be looking for opportunities with you. Companies that maintain or increase their focus on I&D during the downturn are more likely to retain customers, government support and top talent.
Coming together to find innovative ways to minimise the pandemic’s impact will likely pay dividends in years to come, gaining loyal customers and employees.
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About the author
To help women find a workplace that will work for them, we prescreen employers on flexible working, pay equity, paid parental leave, and more. Find your next role on the WORK180 job board.