Coronavirus pandemic could be throttling women’s careers


The pandemic is affecting women in the workplace.

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The coronavirus pandemic could wipe out at least six years’ worth of progress for women in the workplace, according to a sobering new report from McKinsey and women’s advocacy nonprofit Lean In. 

“We are sounding the alarm, we are worried, we are at a crossroads,” said Lareina Yee, senior partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer at McKinsey during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

For the last six years, the Women in the Workplace report has collected data about how women progress — or don’t — through their careers. This year, the report, based on 317 companies across the US and Canada, surveyed more than 40,000 employees in a range of industries from finance to tech. It checked in with how the pandemic is affecting women, many of whom are juggling their work lives with family lives, including schooling children from home

According to the report, 1 in 4 women are thinking of either downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce, though men and women have left the workforce at more or less the same rate in years past. 

“It’s a grim future for women if we don’t step up and make sure they’re supported,” Yee said. Men are less likely to be considering making moves like reducing hours, going part-time, taking a leave of absence or leaving altogether, the report says

As the pandemic has altered life in unprecedented ways, forcing people around the world to work, attend school and do just about everything else from home, it’s also exacerbating a variety of longstanding societal inequities. 

For every 100 men who get promoted from an entry-level position to a manager, only 85 women make that same crucial first step. For Hispanic women, the number drops to 71, and it drops again to 58 for Black women. 

Given that there’s already a dearth of women in senior leadership roles in companies across the board, pandemic-related attrition could worsen the situation. Among women in senior leadership roles, 89% reported feeling burned out, compared with 29% of men. Forty-seven percent of women said they felt the need to be “always on” compared to 40% of men, underlining what the report called the “double shift” of working a full-time job and then putting in hours of child care or household labor. 

Meanwhile, the report’s presenters referenced research that shows companies with more diverse leadership are more innovative, productive and generally perform better. In other words: This could affect companies’ bottom lines. 

Although many of the stats in the report aren’t necessarily auspicious, Yee noted there’s time to take action. The women who are thinking about leaving haven’t left yet

The report makes recommendations like resetting norms about flexibility at work and adjusting other policies to better support women, as well as strengthening communication with employees. For example, the presenters talked about how Black women are less likely to have contact with senior leaders, and in a world where everything happens on Zoom, it’s even harder. Still, companies can take steps to fix all this, the survey indicated

“Bet on the talent you have.” Yee said. “Promote her.”

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