Despite heightened awareness of the challenges facing women in the workplace driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, gender equity is still not a top priority for 70% of global businesses, according to “Women, Leadership, And Missed Opportunities,” a new study from the IBM Institute for Business Value.
The study also revealed that fewer women surveyed hold senior vice president, vice president, director and manager roles in 2021 than they did in 2019.
To reverse this troubling trend, the report suggests four specific actions companies can take to accelerate progress in gender equity in the workplace:
1) Pair bold thinking with big commitments, including making gender equity a business priority and creating pathways for women to re-enter the workforce. For example, companies like Qualcomm, IBM, Deloitte and Johnson & Johnson all offer “returnship” programs to provide a transition back to the workplace after being out of the workforce for a period of time.
2) Apply specific crisis-related interventions. For example, additional benefits like backup childcare support and access to mental health resources can be key. Since March, when its on-site childcare centers closed, Patagonia has extensively surveyed parents to find out what care they have and what they need and even allowed employees to swap their more time-sensitive duties for more asynchronous, long-term work. Starbucks, Target and PwC all rolled out new mental health benefits during the pandemic.
3) Create a culture of intention, and insist on making room. Focus on empathetic leadership and enabling middle managers to be advocates for positive cultural change. People leaders can intentionally champion inclusive team cultures, with flexibility aligned to individuals’ personal and professional needs, and set accountability into business and individual goals to sponsor the future pipeline of women leaders.
4) Use technology to accelerate performance. Organizations like Amazon, Walmart and CVS Health use technologies like AI to help reduce bias in the candidate screening process. Cloud-based digital tools for communication and feedback can help surface what’s working and what’s not in supporting women in the workplace. Investing in collaborative tools can allow both women and men to engage effectively in physical and remote environments even after the pandemic abates.
The pandemic has created new challenges to the advancement of gender equity in the workplace but prioritization and proactive planning may help mitigate immediate challenges and better position women for future workplace success.
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