Study after study shows that women do the bulk of the child-rearing and housework, and the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored how hard it is for working women to shoulder both professional and personal responsibilities. Taking care of kids, especially without childcare or school, is difficult enough, but doing it during a pandemic—while also working—is nearly impossible. Which is why up to two million women are considering leaving corporate America, according to a new McKinsey & Company® study.
Their absence could be detrimental to the corporations they are leaving. Recent research shows that women—and diversity and inclusion efforts as a whole—may be critical to a company’s success. Earlier this year, another McKinsey report found that “the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.”
To help their employees—and their own bottom lines—corporations need to combat the mental health challenges facing their workforce, especially among women. Here are some places to start.
Look at your stats
Figure out where your company stands on diversity, so you can better comprehend how to improve it. Are women promoted at the same rate as men? What about compensation, layoff, and furlough trends? Make sure women—and diverse employees in general—are part of your executive, management, and board teams and involved in decision making.
Fix gender bias
According to the report, women often face higher standards at work, where they are punished for needing flexible work schedules, judged more critically for mistakes, and penalized for being mothers. Admitting these biases exist is the first step, but companies must also address them directly. Only 1 in 4 employees had unconscious-bias training in the past year, according to McKinsey. Be sure all employees go through training on a regular basis. Don’t tolerate sexist and discriminatory behavior, and support employees and managers as they navigate these scenarios.
Offer meaningful support
Remind employees of existing paid-leave policies and company-wide programs, like bereavement and mental health counseling. But go beyond the basics too. Revisit your approach to sick, family, and emergency leave, especially if you don’t offer equal parental leave policies for women and men. Leaders should investigate whether existing benefits and programs are adequate.
Other ways to show support include providing in-home tech setup and assistance while employees work from home and offering information or discounts on grocery delivery and meal kit programs.
Improve work/life balance
Encourage employees—especially women, who, again, tend to be responsible for the bulk of a household’s chores and childcare—to establish clear boundaries between work and home. Give them time off to manage their personal lives, whether that’s remote school, childcare, medical, or mental health challenges. Train managers to understand the needs of their teams. Some parents may not be able to make certain meetings due to a child’s Zoom™ video conference for school. Be flexible. Consolidate meetings. Use the Slack® communication platform or other messaging systems to make it easier for working parents to stay up to speed without sifting through a seemingly endless email inbox.
Redefine your expectations
Ensure that managers’ expectations for productivity reflect what’s possible now, during the pandemic, not just in a pre-COVID-19 world. If necessary, adjust assignments and goals or extend deadlines.
Does your performance review process make sense during the pandemic? Update your criteria for success to reflect the challenges employees, especially women, face at home. However you define success in this post-pandemic moment, make sure it’s achievable without undue stress.
Communicate with empathy
Be open about the company’s plans regarding COVID-19, employee safety, and any changes in expectations, remote work, or other relevant issues. Empathy matters, especially in moments of extraordinary anxiety and fear.
Support men too
Helping mothers in the workplace also means giving fathers greater time and flexibility to contribute more at home. Because, in some families, dads are responsible for the bulk of the childcare and chores. Either way, the measures you put in place for working parents will benefit everyone—including the company.