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Women’s progress could be setback decades due to pandemic fallout

October 08, 2020
By: Ellen Marrison

As the pandemic turned workplaces upside down, women in particular have been negatively impacted. Women, especially women of color, are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed and the supports that working women relied on, namely school and child care, have been upended. As a result, more than a quarter of women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce, according to Women in the Workplace, the sixth in the series from McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, which calls the current situation “an emergency for corporate America.” And, a recent New York Times story this week detailed how alarm bells are also ringing for women in academia, who already faced obstacles in advancing their research and careers.

The study’s findings of women considering leaving the workforce were reflected in data released last week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data showed that women over the age of 20 left the labor force at four times the rate of men between August and September (using seasonally adjusted data). The McKinsey study also details how Black women already face more barriers to advancement than most other employees, and notes that today they are also coping with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and racial violence.

Companies can’t afford to lose women leaders, the study asserts. Besides being a “vast and meaningful impact on a company’s culture”, financial consequences could be significant if senior-level women leave their positions. The study cites research showing that when women are “well-represented at the top, companies are 50 percent more likely to outperform their peers.”

The choices companies make in addressing the challenges facing women could shape the workplace for women for decades, according to the study. If they choose to address the problems, companies can reinvent work to make it more flexible and sustainable for everyone. The study includes a framework for action encompassing six areas to expand their efforts including making work more sustainable, resetting norms around flexibility and taking steps to minimize gender bias. It also specifically looks at ways companies can better support Black women, including addressing the distinct challenges Black women face head-on and fostering a culture that supports and values Black women.

Calling this a pivotal moment, the study notes that companies have shown a growing commitment to gender diversity since the first year of the study in 2015, and calls for continued commitment to the effort. “If companies can rise to the challenges the Covid-19 crisis has put in high relief, we may be laying the foundation for a better workplace” it concludes.

women, workforce, labor force, coronavirus