As we enter this third year of the pandemic, it’s impossible to deny that the culture of work has fundamentally changed. Many companies are permanently embracing a fully remote workforce or some sort of hybrid model to replace the traditional nine-to-five, in-person office environment to which we are accustomed. Working from home comes with benefits as well as challenges, and employees need to have their voices heard regarding what is working and what is not if employers want to retain a highly talented workforce.
More than 250,000 Alabamians left their jobs between July and October. The Great Resignation, as it’s called, has been led by women, particularly those of color. Women’s participation in the labor force has plummeted to rates not seen since 1980, erasing 40 years of progress. Women of color are leaving at the highest rates, as they often work more in retail, healthcare and administrative fields that come with high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and lower rates of pay.
The pandemic exposed many of the inequities that have held women and minorities back from positions of leadership. As schools shut down and the workforce went home, our country got a front-row seat to the challenges of working parents, particularly in regard to childcare and education.
In addition to challenges faced by all women, employees from traditionally underrepresented communities are often not reflected in the leadership ranks of companies. This can put employers at a disadvantage fiscally and in competing for talent.
According to consulting firm McKinsey’s Delivering through Diversity report, companies in the top quartile of gender and ethnic diversity in their leadership were 21% and 33% more likely to have above-average profitability, respectively. On the other hand, those in the bottom quartile were 29% less likely to outperform on profits. Companies with a diverse workforce have a better bottom line — that statistic alone should spur employers to implement proven practices in their recruiting and retainment to increase and maintain diversity.
There are several way employers can avoid another mass exodus of female employees and increase overall diversity among their ranks:
Equal opportunity for advancement. Companies need to invest in training on the impact of implicit bias in recruiting, hiring, performance evaluation, promotion, compensation and leadership opportunities. Extensive research has been conducted in the last decade on implicit bias, and the data clearly show that women experience a wide range of both daily micro-aggressions and blatant discrimination in the workplace when it comes to advancement.
Hybrid work models. A recent Software Development Times article deemed 2022 “the year of hybrid work.” According to Lara Owen, senior director of Global Workplace Experience at GitHub, the main benefit of hybrid work is that it offers employees the flexibility to work in the style that suits them best. People that thrive in an office setting can go into the office every day, people who really do well working at home can continue doing that, or people can opt for a mix of the two. This gives employees the flexibility needed to stay in their jobs, while adjusting to outside situations that may be beyond their control.
Access to informal networks. The happy hours after work, weekend golf, hunting retreats, sporting events and power lunches can be uninviting, unappealing and inconvenient for female employees, especially those who need to work remotely — and yet, these are often where business gets done. If the goal of the activity is purely social, go right ahead. But when business conversations are taking place, make sure all stakeholders have equal opportunity to participate in the conversation.
Equal pay for equal work. On average, women in the U.S. are paid 20% less than men for the same work. For women of color that number is 38% less, and for Latinas it’s 47%. The pay gap adds up to over $400,000 over the course of a woman’s career, and affects her ability to save for retirement, build institutional wealth and give back to the community. Companies need to conduct pay audits, train managers on fair review and promotion practices, normalize salary negotiation for women and eliminate salary history from the hiring process.
Flexibility with time off and paid parental leave for both men and women. The United States is alone among wealthy countries in its lack of a national paid leave program. Offering paid parental leave can increase productivity, improve employee morale, help employers retain and attract top talent, and have a positive impact on social disparity and the health and well-being of employees and their children.
Assistance with childcare. Alabama is seriously lacking access to quality daycare options. Waiting lists at many daycare centers exceed the gestation period of the baby. While every employer is not able to have on-site daycare, companies can subsidize childcare, create alliances with certain centers to shorten wait times and provide after-school study group options for school-aged children to do homework near their parents.
If Alabama employers are serious about diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, overall employee satisfaction and retention and wish to remain competitive, they need to take a deep look at the challenges their employees are facing, both inside and outside of the workplace, and take steps to mitigate implicit bias, barriers to advancement and the burden of family care for their employees, particularly marginalized groups.
Diversity in the workplace is essential for a truly successful business model, not only for employees’ well-being, but also for their companies’ financial futures.
April Benetollo is the CEO of Momentum, Alabama’s premier leadership organization, using skills training and mentorship to help women leaders advance in the workplace .