By Rashim Mogha
Across the globe, people’s lives have changed drastically over the course of this evolving pandemic. In last fifteen months, work from home and the hybrid workplace has become the new norm. We have witnessed thousands of professionals losing their jobs while many active professionals were left struggling to balance work and family. Since women are the primary caregivers, they have been bearing the brunt of this pandemic the most.
A study by Deloitte titled “Understanding the pandemic’s impact on working women” revealed that seven out of ten women globally, who experienced negative shifts in their routine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, believed that the progress of their careers will slow down. While 65% now have more responsibility for household chores, 58% of those with children reported added childcare responsibilities, and 53% of those with children reported home-schooling and education responsibilities.
As per a report released by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one in every 20 women across the globe lost her job in 2020, which amounts to 64 million women being out of the workforce in 2020. One of the key reasons is because most women were employed in the four hardest-hit sectors—leisure and hospitality, educational and health services, government, and retail.
The aforementioned has given rise to the “pink pandemic”—a trend witnessing women leaving the workforce in large numbers due to the global pandemic’s economic and societal effects.
Forced to adjust their career paths
Since women are large part of the workforce in education, healthcare, and social assistance programs, their paid workload became more significant and more complex amid the pandemic. With the shutdown of the support systems – schools and day-cares women juggled work, taking care of their children, helping them get used to online schooling, all while taking the extra burden on their shoulders due to the lockdown. When families face situations where one partner among heterosexual partnerships has to cut back on work, it’s typically the lower-earning partner whose career takes the hit, primarily women.
These factors pushed women out of the workforce en masse, and many had to take a pay cut.
Impact of Women Leaving Workforce
With so many women forced to leave work, there will be long-term and short-term impacts on women, businesses and society in general. The out-of-work women lose critical employment benefits, like health insurance, and accrue exponentially fewer retirement savings. Such impact leaves them vulnerable, especially in a current situation where the pandemic has not ended yet.
On the other hand, organizations lose the myriad benefits of an equitable workforce. It has been seen that the companies that have gender and ethnic diversity are 12 percent more likely to outperform companies that do not. To be successful, organizations realize they need to create products, solutions, and services that resonate with their global diverse audience. Organizations can achieve it only by having diverse teams create them.
In the long term, all the efforts made by the advocates and allies of women will be undone if timely measures are not taken. For instance, if the percentage of women employees continues to go down, they will likely lose the ground they’ve gained in corporate hierarchy. They will be left with far less opportunity for leadership development and fall even farther behind men in terms of wealth accumulation and the power and freedom it affords.
Charting pathways to recovery
Companies need to come forward and play a pivotal role in addressing gender-based inequities. While women need to be empowered to advocate for themselves and forge new career pathways, allies should be enabled to sponsor and support women. Furthermore, organizations should opt for tools to promote and sustain gender parity. Let’s look at the measures that women and organizations can take to retain and bring women back into the workforce.
Build human connections
Women can benefit immensely by buiding a network consisting of mentors, sponsors, peers, friends, and family members who can provide them support to to build their careers. The power of human connection is never more essential than it is in today’s disrupted world.
Build competency levels
Learning was on top of the mind for everyone over the last year – whether it was to learn new digital skills to work better in the virtual work setup or acquire specific skillsets to stay current in their roles. It is vital to identify your transferable strengths, skills, and mindset that will come in handy in your next career move. With digital transformation on the rise, women have a significant opportunity to excel in this area. Seeking learning opportunities in the flow of life and work can stave off burnout and help refocus energy productively.
Build Work-Life harmony
Organizations need to build a suitable structure for parents and caregivers to balance work and family. Parental leaves should be normalized. New parents should be given time to ramp up as they return to work . They need to feel supported and included on the return. Flexible work hours with opportunities to build their work schedule are some steps to help women find the balance.
Invest in women development
Be it in the form of upskilling or reskilling, the development of women in the workplace is a proactive endeavour. Organizations must invest in building a pipeline of women leaders. For example, many organizations are creating re-boarding programs — updated versions of onboarding — for women returning to work. The pandemic has limited the opportunities for women around the globe, and to enable their career development is a crucial responsibility organization can fulfil via strategic sponsorship programs and L&D programs at all levels with access to the resources and visibility necessary to use their skills and build new ones.
The effects of the “pink pandemic” worldwide are real – Women have lost decades of ground in terms of career, financial security, and equality. The data speaks for itself and presents a gloomy picture. But with resourceful allies and steps taken by both women and organizations, we can drive meaningful change.
(The author is Customer Market Leader & GM, Leadership and Business, Skillsoft. Views expressed are personal.)