women

The pandemic could undo years of gains for women in the workforce

  • A survey of some 40,000 employees by McKinsey and Co. and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit Lean In found that 1 out of every 4 working women is considering leaving the workforce or scaling back their hours.
  • Women cite struggling with childcare and household duties as a major concern.
  • While 51% of employers communicate the importance of avoiding burnout, only 37% have changed their performance review process amid the pandemic.
  • In order to prevent a mass exodus of women in the workforce, managers should give employees more time off, increase flexible hours, and reassess performance goals and metrics set before the pandemic.
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One out of every 4 working women is considering leaving the workforce or scaling back their careers because of the pandemic, according to a survey of over 40,000 professionals by McKinsey and Co. and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit Lean In.

It’s the first time in the six years the study has been conducted that women report intending to leave their jobs at higher rates than men.  

Women cite having to be “always on” and cite juggling childcare and household duties with work as major concerns. More than 70% of fathers think they are splitting household labor equally with their partner during the pandemic — but only 44% of mothers say the same, the report found. 

It makes sense. In most households with children, both parents work, Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2018 and 2019 show. Even so, mothers still take on the majority of childcare responsibilities. Research has indicated that mothers perform about 60% of childcare. That equates to about 7.2 hours per week for fathers compared with 13.7 hours (almost double) for mothers. This was before the pandemic forced hundreds of thousands of childcare centers to close … many for good. 

And while some companies have expanded childcare and mental health benefits, many women are struggling to meet goals. 

“We are still expected to meet, if not exceed, all of our targets. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected anything as far as what we’re required to get done,” one Latina worker with a 1-year-old child said in the report. 

While 51% of employers communicate the importance of avoiding burnout, only 37% have changed their performance review process during the pandemic. 

That’s a problem for women, who feel significantly less comfortable than men talking to their managers about personal problems, for fear of being judged or being negatively impacted in their careers, per the report. 

Black and Latina women face even more struggles

Having to balance work and childcare/household responsibilities has taken a particularly onerous toll on Black and Latina women, who already face greater disadvantages in the workforce and are often paid less than their white counterparts. 

Latina mothers are 1.6 times more likely than white mothers to be responsible for all childcare and housework, and Black mothers are twice as likely to be handling all of this for their families.

Black and Latina women are also more likely to be grieving right now. Black and Latinx people have been dying at higher rates than white people, and grief can have a substantial impact on one’s ability to work.

Some 13% of Black women say the loss of a loved one has been a top issue recently and 7% of Latinas say the same, compared to 4% of white women and 4% for all men, per the report. 

In addition to the pandemic, Black women are dealing with the reality of heightened racial violence against Black people. And they’re not feeling supported at work. 

Fewer than one in three Black women report that their manager has checked in on them in light of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. And Black women continue to be far less likely than white colleagues to say they have strong allies at work, per the report. 

While 31% of men report feeling exhausted, 40% of Black women report feeling the same. 

What managers can do

So what can managers do to support women, especially women of color, who are struggling to get by? 

Authors of the report suggest managers give employees more time off, make hours more flexible, and consider adjusting goals and metrics used in performance reviews. 

“Given the shift to remote work and the heightened challenges employees are coping with in their personal lives, performance criteria set before Covid-19 may no longer be appropriate,” the report reads. 

“Bringing criteria into line with what employees can reasonably achieve may help to prevent burnout and anxiety — and this may ultimately lead to better performance and higher productivity.” 

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