One woman’s COVID is not another’s. Just as different populations and individuals have had unique experiences with an unpredictable virus, so have women.
Women have been on the front-lines physically, emotionally and mentally throughout the crisis. Whether they’ve left the workforce, struggled with COVID-19 fatigue or reinvented themselves for new opportunities, their professional and personal lives have dramatically changed. According to McKinsey, one in three women say they have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce altogether in 2021, compared with one in four who said this a few months into the pandemic. Additionally, four in 10 women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs — and high employee turnover in recent months suggests that many of them are following through.
Still, there are signs of improvement, particularly as COVID-19 restrictions ease. According to The 19th News, women started 2022 at the highest rate of labor force participation since the pandemic began in March 2020.
So, where do we go from here? How do we help women regain the ground we’ve lost to the pandemic? There are three key pillars on which we can begin to rebuild, ensuring that women are able to rebound and regain influence, power and capital: female empowerment, effective allyship and organizational responsibility.
Building Networks and Strengthening Community
For all women, whether currently in the workforce or not, it’s important to keep skills and mindsets agile, transferable, relevant and irreplaceable. We can do this through the “three C’s”: connection, competency and community.
We all benefit from the connection of a support system. When women leave the workforce, the need for maintaining a close network becomes even more important — for exposure, visibility and sponsorship. One benefit of the “new normal” is that global workplaces are more connected than ever before. Women can leverage their access creative thinkers, thought leaders and entrepreneurs.
During this time, it’s also important for women to retain and develop new competencies. Skillsoft’s recent “Women in Tech” report found 70% of surveyed women reported that men outnumber them at work at ratios of two to one, or greater. Additionally, 32% of respondents said they feel there’s a lack of professional development and training opportunities available to them. Seeking out ways to acquire and nurture in-demand skills is key to staying employable.
Today, every company is a technology company, so think about the ways in which new tech-related skills could be relevant to your career goals. For example, there are a range of digital skills, like security and cloud computing, that have become more critical than before, and even traditional roles have been reframed through a digital lens.
Finally, finding — or building — a community can help women hone their power skills outside of their work environment. For example, volunteering for a non-profit is a great way to develop leadership competencies and develop relationships with others who are passionate about the things you care about. And those same leadership skills are easily transferred to your next job role.
So, the questions for women are these: How can you leverage your connections to help yourself and others? How can you increase your competencies, strengths, abilities and mindset to help you down the road? And where can you find a community of like-minded individuals, where you can build additional, transferrable skills — and find camaraderie and personal satisfaction.
Empowerment Through Advocacy
There are three primary areas of focus if you want to be an effective ally: awareness, advocacy and action. As an ally, you should work on your own personal awareness and seek opportunities to understand any implicit or unconscious biases you may have. Allies must use their voice to influence others on behalf of women. Experienced allies should advocate for women and speak up against misconceptions and negative micro behaviors. This is especially helpful to women who have taken a career break. If you’re able to do so, support your colleagues. Acknowledge a woman’s great ideas in a meeting or offer to serve as a reference to a woman in line for a promotion. Avoid bystander syndrome and focus on intentional enablement.
Finally, take action. Allies must not only “talk the talk,” but also “walk the walk.” Host a women’s gathering, volunteer at or donate to organizations that support women and girls, be relentless in the pursuit of justice and equality, and for those fortunate to be in a leadership position and have a seat at the table, use your voice to advocate on behalf of women who cannot.
Building Strong Pipelines of Female Talent
Let’s touch on the third and perhaps most critical pillar: corporate responsibility and what companies can do both in the short-term as well as long-term to affect change and stem the tide of the Pink Pandemic. It’s important that companies recognize the issue and develop an immediate response. Why should organizations care? Among other reasons, because the inclusion of women has proven to be good business.
Companies can’t afford to lose women leaders. According to McKinsey, company profits and share performance can be nearly 50% higher when women are well represented at the top. Senior-level women are more likely than their male counterparts to embrace employee-friendly policies and programs that create and nurture corporate culture, to take a stand for gender and racial equity, and to mentor and sponsor other women.
How do organizations support valuable leaders? Again, focus on three key areas: empowerment, enablement, and engagement. Empowerment ensures the advancement of women in the workforce. As an organizational leader, you must apply conscious empowerment to ensure power structures are enabling diversity and not diminishing it. We need organizations to enable women by investing heavily in upskilling, reskilling and developing women in the workplace. Finally, organizations need to remain engaged with their present and future female employees during this time. Human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) can serve as important epicenters for activities designed to raise women up.
Yes, the Pink Pandemic is very real and has taken an incredible toll. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, at our current trajectory, it will take almost 136 years to close the gender gap worldwide, which means we may never see gender parity in our lifetimes. We need to first recognize the current challenge, and then formulate and carry out meaningful plans to enact real and meaningful change. The power rests in our alignment with each other.
But the good news is that, by working together, we have the tools to help lift women up and regain the ground that we’ve lost.