Management · February 04, 2021

Supporting Women in the Workforce During a Global Health Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone across the globe. But many populations—particularly those who are already disadvantaged—are feeling the economic effects of the health crisis disproportionately. Women in the workforce are among those suffering the steepest setbacks.

With healthcare and frontline workers more likely to be women and people of color, women have a higher likelihood of contracting the virus while keeping the economy going. On top of those strains, women are also more likely to be impacted by family-related responsibilities. According to the Center for American Progress, four times more women than men have left the workforce during the pandemic. Those still working now have to manage children at home, their schooling and household responsibilities in addition to their work demands.

To help women in your company during these unprecedented times, consider an approach that focuses on empathy. Understand the burdens and biases women face, take actionable steps to alleviate their stress, and enact meaningful policy changes that drive gender equality throughout your company.

Implement gender bias education programs

Any initiative to help improve the experience of women in your company begins with acknowledging gender bias. By implementing training and educational programs specifically about gender bias, you can help remove the roadblocks that hold women back—from hiring and harsher evaluation standards to the bias against women returning to the workplace after having children.

Programs like Lean In's 50 Ways to Fight Bias are low-cost ways for your company to implement bias education and start conversations about the biases all people carry, whether they realize them or not. For more ideas, you can also look to organizations that support women in the workforce—for example,  foundations that offer grants for women-owned businesses.

Consider flexible work schedules

Women have more to juggle now that work has moved into their homes. Offering flexible work schedules can help the women in your company carve out time specific to their needs, helping them focus on critical work tasks with fewer interruptions.

Flexible work schedules can take a variety of forms—but the best way to find what works for the women in your company is to ask them directly. Some options could include flexible start/stop times, limited-day work weeks or even a shift to condensed workdays, like 9 am to 3 pm.

You can also consider a project-focused approach that allows women to meet goals on more individualized schedules while still managing their family's needs.

Rethink health benefits

Trying to manage everything from work to family responsibilities while being cooped up for longer than anyone planned is an emotional pressure cooker, especially for those who carry more responsibilities between home and work. Employers can support women in the workforce by looking at their current health benefits and ensuring there are ways for women to get the mental healthcare they need.

Companies can explore sponsored plans to online mental health providers, subscriptions to wellness apps that focus on meditation and an array of additional wellness benefits, such as a streaming fitness subscription of an employee's choice.

Offer an open door

Any actions that your company can take to support women in the workforce need to come with an open door policy. When the women across your company know they have an outlet to offer both concerns and praise without fear of retribution, you'll likely find your company benefits in multiple ways.

First, you'll create an always-on feedback loop that can bring unseen issues to your attention. You'll also have a meaningful way to start conversations about policy changes and potentially identify women in your company who'd like to be involved in shaping the company's inclusion policies. Finally, you'll create a culture where women know their voices matter and are heard, creating positive change throughout the entire company.

Remember, the support you offer to women in the workforce during the pandemic isn't just for the high-stress pandemic environment. Those means of support can be part of your company's larger commitment to inclusion and gender equality in the workforce. When women win, everyone wins.


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