While retaining talent has been a recurring theme for many companies across several years, it has never been more critical than now. The recent release of the “Women in the Workplace 2020” report by McKinsey and LeanIn identified that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to Covid-19. The challenges that women face in balancing a career along with the significant increases in the demands at home with children in distance learning, elderly parents needing more support for their health care and households and managing work requirements are creating a precipice to cause women to pause; something got to give. That slack isn’t likely to come from reduced demands at home so the viable target becomes work. It was incredibly enlightening to me as I looked deeper into the stats of the report to find that 617,000 women quit their jobs in September 2020 (8x more than men), stats provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A coincidence that this coincided with the beginning of the school year in the U.S.? I believe not. I appreciate that many households are run by both parents, it is also a reality that 66% of caregivers are female who spend over 20 hours a week more than men on caregiving activities and housework.
I pride myself on a career where I have been successful presenting solutions for problems, this one is difficult. There was a similar, though not nearly as significant, increase in women leaving the workforce in the last economic recession that started in 2007 and lasted for three years. The numbers of this workforce exodus are startling and demand attention and aggressive employment reform. Employees site their toughest Covid-19 challenges as:
- Anxiety over layoffs or furloughs
- Mental health
- Childcare and/or homeschooling responsibilities
- Physical and mental health of loved ones
- Financial insecurity
While these six concerns are universally cited across all demographic groups, the report further referenced that Latinas are more prone to worry about layoffs and furloughs and the LGBTQ+ women are nearly twice as likely to reference their biggest challenges during Covid-19 as mental health.
So, the key consideration is what employers can do to prevent a mass exodus of their female talent? Addressing the challenges head-on is the most effective course of action. The best preventive measures lie in offsetting the concerns with progressive policies and practices. Investigating options of providing resources to employees to fund the increase in care-giving demands. Creating or improving corporate culture to increase flexibility at work and reduce the notion that employees always need to be accessible is paramount. While this seems a huge undertaking, it is not as daunting as it initially appears. Executives can lead the way by modeling these behaviors in not emailing at all hours of the day/night and clearly setting expectations that a response is not needed immediately. Actions speak volumes in this space. I’m optimistic but not unrealistic that this is easier said than done and it will need to be a very conscious effort in order to get the word out effectively and be received as genuine. Authenticity will be evaluated at every turn. Employees will be watching for disconnects in words and behaviors; you need to walk the talk and call out exceptions quickly to stop their negative impact. We need to recognize that the work environment is forever changing and the proactive and progressive employers will win the war for talent if they fight the battle effectively and in a genuine manner.
If you have existing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), enlist them in the solution by partnering with them to create a place for employees to talk about the challenges that they are experiencing with a focus on identifying solutions. ERGs are an incredibly powerful tool in the retention of talent, especially if they have been in existence for an extended period of time and have a reputation for being in alignment with core values. Lip service will be noticed. Leveraging conversations with the ERGs will build the platform for positive change and eliminate the risk of employees feeling that they can’t bring their whole self to work. Creating an environment for these conversations is critical in any employment climate, it is essential in these Covid-19 times.
The answers are out there, just ask your key employees what they need. If there is an environment of trust, they’ll share the challenges that they face as well as some suggestions on how to address them. Remember, they are identified as your talent pool for a reason-they are smart individuals. The good news is that if you get this right, it will serve not only to simply retain your key talent but will create a great conduit for attracting talent as well! Partnering with organizations to build solid retention, recruitment and development platforms is my passion, I can help you to ensure that your organization navigates the changing workforce dynamics in a proactive manner. I have helped several global Fortune 100 firms as well as smaller, mid-sized organizations to be recognized as “Best Places to Work” both domestically and internationally.