Success looks different for everyone, and it looks different for every business, too. No matter what your company’s mission is, one thing is clear: We must address the challenges women are facing in the workforce, and learning and development (L&D) will play a key role in pioneering gender equity in the future.

First, we have to focus on the employee retention and engagement of the women most impacted by the challenges of COVID-19. One of the most effective ways to do this is to reduce the pressure they might be experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

This article will outline six key areas where L&D can pinpoint their efforts and help companies work toward a more empathetic and effective workforce development practice.

Employee Engagement Should Be Sustainable

Make work more sustainable: Implementing a sustainable pace at work will prevent burnout and help mothers, senior-level women and all employees facing challenges, work with continued energy and enthusiasm.

How do we make this happen? Firstly, leaders and essential stakeholders need to reassess what their productivity and performance expectations were before COVID-19 and see if they are still realistic in the new normal.

If key stakeholders find that their pre-COVID goals are no longer achievable, they may need to narrow the scope of projects, or keep the same goals but provide extended deadlines. Also, leaders can find creative ways to give employees extra free time in the workweek to promote work-life balance and reduce burnout.

Bright Idea: Consider incorporating “pandemic days” into your business practice. This could look like a few free Fridays each quarter to allow everyone to recharge, reset and organize their schedules.

Workforce Development to Better Support Employees:  Consider implementing programs to support employees during, and after, COVID-19. For example, see if your company can offer more paid time off to parents. Provide working mothers with resources for homeschooling. If your company offers mental health counseling, make sure employees know this benefit is available. Learning leaders should inform women all of the company’s resources available to them and, of course, encourage them to utilize them.

Flexible Professional Development

Champion Flexibility: The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on employee engagement. With work, and learning, largely moving online,  many employees are having a harder time establishing a separation between work and home. Therefore, companies should take the initiative to create clear work-life boundaries.

Bright Idea: Try making set schedules for meetings, putting policies in place for responding to work-related emails outside of business hours, and improving communication about work hours across departments. Women, especially, may feel the need to stay “on” at all times for work. Key stakeholders should ensure employees that their performance will not be measured based on how much they push themselves outside of office hours, and L&D should reiterate this as well.

Combat Gender Bias: A Learning Experience

Fight Gender Bias: Since the pandemic, many women have reported seeing the demand for higher performance standards, as well as experiencing judgment for mistakes, and suffering professionally for being mothers and seeking flexible work options.

Bright Idea: Combat microaggressions against working mothers, such as  comments about young children playing in the background on video calls. If you address this as a key stakeholder, it will signal that you care. Assure the working mothers on your team that you understand their situation, and they should not feel guilty for managing their home life as well as their work life. Lastly, train your people on the potential biases they might be exhibiting.

Let Numbers Talk: It’s important to track outcomes for promotions and salary increases by gender, and examine your company’s history of layoffs and furloughs by gender. If you see a distinct preference for men over men in your organization’s career pipeline, communicate that with your fellow essential stakeholders and let them know it’s a problem.

Support Your Team

This is a difficult time for everyone. Now is the time to cut through the digital distraction and reach out to the employees who need support the most. While gender bias and sexism in the workplace will take time and concentrated effort to combat, L&D and stakeholders alike can begin with the basics.

As a woman, how has your experience at work changed as a result of the pandemic? If you are an essential stakeholder, what actions have you taken to make sure employees are happy and healthy? Share your thoughts with us on social media by tagging @WeLearnIs.

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