Each of us has a dream, big or small, that is worth pursuing. Perhaps that dream is to earn a degree, start a new job in a new field, open our own business or spend more time with family and loved ones. But too often, those aspirations are put aside. Life happens. Priorities must shift. And suddenly, we find ourselves in a box with options seemingly cut short. This reality often runs even deeper for women.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many women were faced with unimaginably difficult situations and choices, and many left the workforce temporarily or permanently to focus on their children’s needs while attending school from home or to support their families.

The kicker is that the deciding factor in the decision to leave their careers was often solely based on larger salary and/or better job security. It leaves us to wonder how those conversations would have played out if unequal pay and glass ceilings didn’t exist.

As a new way of working comes into focus — one that embraces remote work and flexible career lifestyles — it’s worth discussing the impact that can have on the career of the modern woman and, more importantly, how companies can embrace recent changes in a way that promotes women’s equality in the workplace.

Make Work Accessible for Everyone

For starters, more companies are embracing a democratized style of work that allows everyone to have access to equitable benefits, flexibility and learning and development (L&D) opportunities as the next person. How does this open opportunity for businesses to play a larger role in the well-being of their employees?

It used to be that a woman’s location, her nationality, her education, her native language and her immediate network would define her professional opportunities. However, the post-pandemic acceptance of remote work on a global scale has brought with it many changes to this model.

For example, more companies have internationalized their software and websites to avoid English-centric web development that makes it possible for people in different parts of the world to learn about a business and even pursue career opportunities with foreign companies. Now, women on the other side of the world are able to access resources that empower them to pursue their dreams, no matter where they live.

A more accessible work and learning environment helps level the playing field for women around the world in several ways. First, remote work can create jobs in countries and economies where there are few, allowing people to work in their native town without the mandate that they must move or commute to a big city. Second, remote work has the power to disrupt the traditional flow of capital. Venture capital now holds international influence, which brings local businesses access to capital. This mainly impacts women who want to start their own business but have never had the resources to do so in the past. Lastly, remote work can advance the ideas of underrepresented groups, such as women, and can help women advance in their careers based on performance, not gender.

Offer Flexibility

Of course, we can’t discuss the benefits of remote work without talking about the flexibility it affords. While remote work environments benefit men and women alike, the ability to work from anywhere is intrinsically more meaningful to women than men. Research shows that 68% percent of women prefer to work remotely post-pandemic compared to 57% of men.

Flexibility plays a critical part in closing gender gaps and empowering women to advance their careers. Flexible work environments can help to reduce gender inequality by enabling working mothers to stay in the labor market longer, which is why it must be a baseline for companies aspiring to build women up.

Some may argue that offering women flexible work schedules reinforces traditional gender roles because it stems from the expectation that mothers must do the housework and take care of the children while working from home. Yes, there are common pitfalls when it comes to flexible work strategies — engagement and recognition are top of mind — but these hurdles ought not deter companies from offering flexible work options in the first place. Women are fully capable of determining their own work preferences and priorities if only they are allotted the choice.

The Importance of Affirmations

Think of a time that you’ve been faced with a unique challenge or had an uncomfortable choice to make; perhaps something as big as a tough career decision or something small like whether to invite a new co-worker out to lunch. A lot of people, for instance, are afraid of public speaking. I know that used to be a great fear of mine for quite some time. Others feel uncomfortable in small social settings and aren’t sure how to converse with different types of personalities. In those moments, we all hear a certain “voice” in our head and that voice is either going to be affirming or discouraging. The voice we hear — and the voice that ultimately drives us to speak up or stay silent — will depend on the things other people have told us over our lifetime: “You are bright, capable and worthy,” versus, “You don’t have what it takes.”

Every L&D professional and business leader should want to be on the “right side of history” in these instances; they should want to be a positive influence on a woman’s confidence and self-esteem, rather than a negative one. A culture that emboldens its employees with a narrative of positivity, encouragement and support will naturally advocate for every single one of its valued employees, including women.

Taking Chances

I remember a moment in my life when I heard positive affirmations go through my head in a difficult situation. Those positive thoughts helped me to approach a senior executive at a well-known company who was visiting as a guest speaker when I was an MBA student at Wright State University looking for an internship. At that point, I had recently moved to America from India with $4,000, a suitcase and a big dream. I felt inadequately prepared to start a conversation with someone I wanted to impress, but I knew that in order to move forward in pursuing my dreams, the first step that I took had to be outside of my comfort zone.

After the seminar ended, I wanted to make a quick exit from my back-row seat and avoid the conversation altogether. However, I was able to talk myself up and gather the courage to walk toward the front of the hall (a walk I still vividly remember) and introduce myself, express my gratitude for the session and my desire for an internship. Taking that leap landed me an internship that led to my first job in America.

Not only must women be encouraged to take chances and be motivated by their peers, managers and mentors, but senior executives and business leaders should also take chances on women who show initiative and step out of their comfort zones. Creating this culture of trust helps employees — especially those in minority groups — take more risks, think more boldly and work with confidence.

The topic of global equality for women is not an easy nut to crack, and we have a long way to go on the journey to full equality. I challenge all of us to continue the conversation about how companies and, specifically HR professionals, can promote gender equality at a practical level.

From my perspective, we have many opportunities in front of us as the world continues to change and adapt to remote work and autonomy. There are also new possibilities on the front of continued globalization. With a greater ability to access and hire talent from virtually anywhere, we can level the playing field and offer quality opportunities to ensure more women and underrepresented groups are given the opportunity to take chances, step out of their comfort zones and prove themselves. I believe if companies include and offer chances to women in a variety of roles and fields globally, they will automatically ensure global diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Chase inclusion and diversity follows!