COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted women, who are 39% of the global workforce but represent 54% of all pandemic-related job losses.
According to AllBusiness.com, women are most likely to work in the industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic: hospitality, travel and tourism, and retail. Many women have also had to leave jobs or reduce hours because they have a disproportionate share of family caregiving responsibilities that have increased due to the closure of daycares and schools.
“Since many employers can’t afford to keep a full staff, and women are taking leave to stay home and care for their families, they are often the first furloughed or laid off,” writes Michele Ruiz, CEO of BiasSync, a science-based technology platform to measure, assess, train, and mitigate unconscious bias in the workplace.
Ruiz noted that when Covid-19 began last March, women held more jobs than men for the first time since 2010. One year later, however, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women have lost 1 million more jobs than men during the pandemic. Some economics predict that COVID-19 has set back women’s advancement in the workplace by a whole generation.
The challenge for companies who have worked hard to hire, retain, and promote women in their organizations in recent years is how to avoid making a bad situation worse. As vaccines become more readily available and more schools and business reopen, employers should take proactive steps to mitigate gender bias post-COVID, Ruiz said.
Ruiz shared four suggestions from a recent Harvard Business School article:
- Track the data: Determine if your business unintentionally furloughed more women than men than men during the pandemic and take steps to mitigate that when hiring. Focus on maintaining gender equality when hiring in terms of both title and pay.
- Create and support flexible work schedules: The pandemic proved that working from home and having a flexible schedule to ensure work/life balance is possible and often productive. Make sure that women aren’t unfairly punished by the perception or reality that they need more work/life balance than men in the post-pandemic workplace.
- Listen: Create a work environment where all your employees and especially women can openly discuss issues they have with “unpaid care” and other challenges. Let them know that they will not be penalized for sharing how these challenges are affecting them.
- Provide health and wellness resources: Now more than ever, companies should be providing for the mental and physical health and wellness of female employees.