In the wake of COVID-19, work as we know it has transformed dramatically. Many organizations have transitioned to work-from-home, and the closure of schools, camps, and childcare demand have increased work / life juggling from employees. Communities of color have experienced disproportionate spread of the disease due to structural racism, and women are taking on most caretaking and schooling duties.
For leaders invested in equity and inclusivity, there has never been a more crucial time to act.
Through data gathered from the Chamber’s All in for Advancement Program and Women’s Leadership Program, there are a few common barriers women express that we all must address together to create a truly inclusive work environment.
- Work assignment distribution: Women are often passed over when organizations are assigning strategically important assignments. This makes it difficult for women to develop professionally and to position themselves for career growth. It may also be more difficult for women to get their contributions heard when they do contribute. There are a few common reasons this happens:
- Women employees are busy with work that is less likely to earn recognition and promotion. Women, especially women of color are disproportionately asked to do “office housework”. These are administrative tasks such as from taking notes, finding a time to meet, or ordering lunch that take up time without building credibility for the performer of those tasks. Women are also more likely to be asked to perform tasks involving emotional labor, including handling employee conflict.
- Employers may assume women do not want challenging assignments. Parents may find themselves on the “mommy track” - 73% of surveyed moms believe they don’t get as many career advancement opportunities as women who aren’t moms.
- Access to mentorship and sponsorship: Women receive less informal feedback than men, despite asking for it as often. In addition, although women do often have mentors, few have sponsors, senior leaders who advocate for them amongst their peers. Women of color, in particular, report wanting promotions at a higher rate than men and white women, but get the least amount of support advancing their careers.
- Disproportionate caretaking load: While women have always taken on the majority of caretaking duties, the impact of this has sharpened in the wake of COVID, where women are trying to be star employees, primary parents, and homeschool teachers simultaneously. Many industries operate on a “billable hours culture” that may be particularly difficult for women to excel under in these circumstances.
Women, especially women of color, are facing both new and old challenges to accessing professional opportunities. Leaders have an opportunity to take action, especially in the wake of increased and much-needed conversations about workplace equity brought about by COVID, the movement for Black lives, and the recent Supreme Court ruling. There has never been a more crucial time to act, and the Chamber is committed to partnering with you every step of the way.
- Start by listening. In All for Advancement, we do an exercise that I love. Our delivery partners at Babson College show a picture of a woman struggling to reach something from the top shelf, and they ask participants a seemingly simple question – What does this woman need? Typically, participants shout out answers such as: a ladder, a tall person’s help, for the product to be moved to a more accessible shelf. But truthfully, the only answer we know for sure is that she needs to reach that item. Without speaking to her directly, we can’t know for sure what her preference would be as to how she would like to reach it. Similarly, for equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives to be truly successful, leaders need to start by listening to learn about needs.
- Get a clear picture of the current situation. In addition to listening to women, people of color, and LGBTQ people’s experiences, it can help to gather data to understand what the current context of the organization is. It may help to start with statistics on the demographic diversity at different levels in the organization, employee engagement surveys, and other important metrics. This is also a good opportunity to honestly audit your own expertise in social identity and oppression and to add to that knowledge.
Join us for related upcoming programming: