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Business leaders should do all they can to retain their women employees

When I first heard about the possibility of a global pandemic, I thought… nah… that’s only in the books or in the movies. Then it hit, and it hit real hard. Never imagined living in the middle of a pandemic and our lives becoming a movie played before our eyes with no script and no apparent end.

The challenges of living through a pandemic are many as we’re all experiencing: lockdowns… shutdowns… hand washing… distance watching… air hugging… vaccine hunting… etc… We all had to learn some new routines (as Mr. Miyagi might say, mask on/mask off Daniel-san!).

But the challenges that working parents, especially working mothers, have been facing every day are way beyond those. Childcare, eldercare, selfcare, home schooling children, preparing for the next virtual class, making sure the WiFi is up and running, and keeping the family together, to name a few. All this while trying to maintain a full-time job and career. Imagine the pressure.

No wonder that under the pandemic pressure, more women than men have been leaving the workforce. A joint study by McKinsey and Women in the Workplace published in December 2020 found that “1 in 4 women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce” and “1 in 3 working mothers may be forced to scale back or opt out”. In pure numbers, 25% of women in the workforce (over 76M in 2019) is about 19M women potentially leaving their careers. According to the Gallup, between Feb 2020 and Feb 2021, over 2.3M women (compared to 1.8M men) had already left the workforce!

An exodus of women from the workforce, especially those in senior and leadership roles, will erase decades of hard work by women to climb up the corporate ladder. If business leaders and their HR business partners allow this to happen, it will be detrimental to the economy at large, and will further deepen the gender inequality and gender pay gap. Moreover, it will exhibit leadership shortsightedness.

Businesses need to start thinking post pandemic and revise their policies and strategies toward the workplace of the future (think 10-ish years) where flexibility of all kinds – remote work, work-from-home, job sharing, time swapping, job swapping – will be a core cultural value of the organization. It will also be a major component of their talent acquisition & retention strategies. Offering more flexibility options to all employees would fit better with the gig economy, working women, and the millennial mentality (currently the largest generation in the workforce and growing) – as a Deloitte study put it, “Millennials want freelance flexibility with full-time stability”. I believe Gen Zers who are now entering the workforce, want even more flexibility.

Forward-looking employers already would offer remote-work and work-from-home options to employees, but neither of these flexibility options reduce employees’ working hours for a greater work-life balance. And it may even raise the expectation that the employee has more time to work since they are not driving to work! Job sharing is an additional form of flexible work arrangements that enables employees reduce working hours while maintaining their careers. In my next blog I will cover Job Sharing in detail.