COVID-19’s work-related stresses strained many women’s relationships with their employers. Now, many organizations have work to do to win female employees back.
Women underwent major work-related stresses during COVID-19, and it took a toll on their relationships with their employers that organizations may find hard to repair. As reported by the 5,000 working women in 10 countries we polled in early 2021, many saw their job-related workloads increase even as their household and care responsibilities also mounted. Stress, burnout, and poorer physical health were the frequent result and, not surprisingly, our survey shows major drop-offs in job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity since the pandemic began.
Many women unhappy with their jobs are looking for positive change by considering other employers. More than half of our respondents either expect to leave their current employer within two years, or are already actively looking for work with another organization.
But our research also identified organizations that are getting it right: “gender equality leaders”—organizations whose policies, programs, and cultures explicitly support women in the workplace, and who are seeing the impact of this through increased engagement, productivity, and loyalty. These organizations demonstrate the positive impact of focusing on gender equality at work—and they also illustrate the critical components. Women who work for these organizations are confident in reporting when they encounter noninclusive behaviors at work (and encounter lower rates of such behaviors than the sample); feel supported by their employers when it comes to work/life balance; and believe that their careers are progressing as fast as they want them to.
Our study also highlights the impact when organizations lag behind—and the impact on the women who work for them—with significant variances between how these women rate their experiences in comparison to those who work for gender equality leaders. From productivity levels and mental well-being to job satisfaction—the difference is stark.
This research shows what organizations must do if they want to make a real difference on gender equality at work:
Create and maintain an inclusive everyday culture, where noninclusive behaviors are not tolerated, and where women feel able to raise concerns without fear of career penalty
Enable work/life balance that goes beyond policies, and normalizes flexible work. Demonstrate visible leadership commitment, including setting targets for gender representation at the senior level
Offer better learning development opportunities, interesting projects, and stretch assignments that work for women
Provide support and resources such as short-term sabbaticals and mental health resources that enable life outside work
As we start to rebuild the workplace postpandemic, it is incumbent on employers to rebuild the way we work with gender equality in mind: a workplace that works for all and is fit for the future.