15 Mar This Women’s History Month, Commit to Be an Ally
This month is International Women’s History Month 2021, and yet women everywhere are still struggling against bias and discrimination in hiring, pay and promotions. In 2020 CNBC reported that for every 100 men promoted and hired in a management position, only 72 women were hired and promoted to comparable positions. Business Insider reports that women still only earn 83 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.
And that is not all. Women continue to deal with more stress than men. One woman recounted how almost every work-day begins for her. She hopes her daycare worker will get there before she has to leave. She walks to the garage as her 2-year-old tearfully runs after her screaming for mama. She tears him off her and shoves him to the daycare worker and quickly gets out the door. She gets in her car in tears. Another woman, a business owner, recounts the challenge of taking care of elderly out of state parents while trying to run her business.
Facts about COVID and Women in the Workforce
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there were over 2,000,000 less women workers in October 2020 than in October 2019. There are many reasons for this, including lay-offs, companies closing or downsizing and in-person school closures. Women with school age children have them at home learning virtually. They are trying to do their jobs remotely, while also supervising their children, taking care of the house, cooking and cleaning, and often caring for elderly parents.
One young mother of two elementary age children reported helping her children on the computer, working remotely herself and ordering food and prescriptions for elderly parents out of state. Another woman laments the challenge of getting her disabled daughter vaccinated and the struggle she is having with the school system who says high school students do not need to wear a mask. She fights these fights daily, while trying to do her job.
It’s no wonder that according to Brookings.edu’s gender equality series, “working mothers have taken on more of the childcare responsibilities, and are more frequently reducing their hours or leaving their jobs entirely in response” to COVID. Further, a study conducted by Women in Academia showed 49% more married, working women in April of this year are suffering from at least mild psychological issues than in 2019.
What Can Colleagues Do to Help Women in the Workplace?
While everyone is stressed these days, it’s more important than ever to be a caring and supportive colleague to those who are facing more struggles than ourselves in the workplace. While boundaries and norms depend on regions, industries and organizational culture, it’s important to think of small acts, or micro-actions, that can help our colleagues and the whole organization. Here are a few examples we have witnessed or heard of recently:
● Ask a working mother about her children before a Zoom call starts
● When a colleague has to miss a meeting, email, text or call them to ask if everything is OK and offer to share notes about the key points of the meeting with them
● Send a quick text or call to tell a colleague that they are not alone and can count on you to help on a task when you know they have just had a family emergency
● Be welcoming of kids that unexpectedly show up on in the video screen on a parent’s lap during a meeting
Please share any other micro-actions that you have recently observed or done yourself by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Can Organizations Do to Help?
One enormous step an organization can take to alleviate stress is to offer support services and mentorship opportunities to women so they can hone and acquire new skills, tools and resources to cope better. Mentorship also provides women with a needed confidant to discuss sources of their stress that may cause them to be less productive at work. It gives them a place to go for advice and feel supported.
Organizations should also conduct regular compensation reviews to ensure pay equity between female and male employees doing comparable work. Though salaries are confidential, they do come out occasionally. Nothing engenders feelings of betrayal and resentment more than finding out you are earning less than someone doing the same or less work as you.
As organizations prepare to go back to their offices, mothers are presented with more challenges. Every school is working a different schedule now. Some are virtual, some are in person, some are on a hybrid schedule. Many families have children of different ages on different schedules. Give your employees, and especially working mothers, as much flexibility as possible, to work from home, or on alternate schedules, as needed.
Perhaps most importantly, the biggest thing an organization can do is to check in with your employees to find out what they need. Ask how they are doing. Show them you care, show them that they matter. This will significantly decrease their stress, and will also increase the likelihood of retaining productive female employees.
Forbes states “Employee stress is a problem. For every employee. At every company.” The question is how are you going to help your employees deal with it? Are you going to stand by while capable, productive women leave because they are not able to handle the myriad of demands on them without some flexibility? Or are you going to do what it takes to ensure your employees stay productive? Are you going to be an organization that retains its valuable female employees or loses them? Are you going to be a leader in the industry or a follower?
During this International Women’s History Month, let us all commit to be allies and leaders in meeting women’s needs in the workplace, so they feel supported and included. It’s good for female employees, it’s good for our families, and it’s good for business and our economy.
Please write to us at email@example.com about your own thoughts and experiences during the International Women’s Month.