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Keeping women in the workforce during difficult times | Concrete steps to reinvent the future of the workplace for women

Written by Caroline Dowd-Higgins. Posted in Featured

Published on March 10, 2021 with No Comments

The statistics are staggering about women who are leaving the workforce. Every year, 25% of women exit a career because they can’t make work and life fit together and this has been exacerbated during the pandemic. Women forfeit up to four times their salary every year they are out of the workforce, which impacts their lifelong earning power and retirement savings dramatically.

We must find manageable ways to blend work and life and be candid with organizational leadership about creating intentional and flexible options.

The 2020 Women in the Workplace Report co-commissioned by McKinsey and LeanIn.org provided concrete steps to reinvent the future of the workplace for women.

To frame the challenges women face, here are some key findings from the report:

  • Gender Equity Bar is Too Low – many men, and some women believe women are well represented as leaders in companies where only one in ten senior leaders is a woman.
  • Women Hit the Glass Ceiling Early - women are 18% less like likely to be promoted than their male peers.
  •  Women Get Less Support for Career Advancement – women interact less with senior leaders and those who do are more likely to aspire to be top executives.
  • Men are Less Committed to Gender Diversity Efforts – some men feel gender diversity efforts disadvantage them and 15% of men think their gender will make it harder for them to advance.
  • Many Women Still Work a Double Shift – 54% of women do all or most of the household work, compared to 22% of men. This gap grows when couples have children.

Cali Yost, a speaker and author who writes about the world-of-work said,

“What’s missing is intention, or the planned, targeted, coordinated use of work flexibility, technology, and workspace–on and offsite–to address the strategic challenges and opportunities facing the organization.  That’s high-performance flexibility.

Leaders will have to reimagine the way work can be done to compete for talent and optimize performance in the flexible future of work.  High performance flexibility will become part of the cultural DNA of the business. That means everyone, at every level, is asking and answering the question: “What do we need to get done, and how, when and where do we do it best?” with coordinated, strategic intention.”

Most companies are struggling to design what work will look like for employees when it’s safe to come back to the office on a regular basis. Many organizations have realized the cost-benefit of a remote workforce and have shifted to virtual work and let go of expensive real estate overhead.

You need to have a voice in this conversation and express your ideas and intentions for your best work scenario. If women sit back and wait for things to happen, chances are the new normal will not honor what you need.

As Cali Yost says, “We need to shift the mindset and language. Work is what we do, not a place where we go.”

If we go back exactly to the way it was pre-pandemic, “…it undermines and dismisses all the innovative and creative ways employees have rapidly reset how they’ve done their jobs during extremely difficult times.” says Yost.

If we can shift the conversation about what needs to get done and how, and focus less on where the work happens, we will move forward in a more healthy and sustainable way for the long term.

I participated in a TEDWomen conversation, led by Deanna Bass and Kim Azzarelli, that generated these positive and pro-active solutions to empower women in the career space.

The word-of-work and the often-antiquated HR systems need to evolve to reflect current realities and demands. Modern career women are not broken, but they seek work environments that will empower them to do their best work. This also helps men and ultimately raises productivity and the bottom line for organizations.

Recruit Intentionally – employers need to invest in better job descriptions, hire for potential, skills, competencies, and life experience. Hiring for credentials only is very limiting. Organizations must create viable career growth and promotion opportunities to retain exceptional talent.

There is No Pipeline Problem – it’s simply a myth that there are not enough women interested or qualified for leadership roles. Employers need to right this misperception by hiring and promoting more capable women. A commitment to developing and promoting women in the ranks and exposing them to executive leaders (men and women) will also help break the very real glass ceiling.

Men Advocating Real Change - cheers to the men committed to achieving gender equality in the workplace. Men Advocating Real Change(MARC) is a forum where members engage in candid conversations and expand gender diversity in their organizations. An initiative of Catalyst, MARC is inspiring men to seek and drive meaningful change.

Redesign How We Work with Women – because many women are still serving as the Chief Household Officers and take on the majority of tasks associated with raising children and running a home, they seek flexible work scenarios, childcare options and non-linear career promotions that allow them to play to their strengths to do their very best work. Men will benefit from these workplace redesigns as well.

Erase the False Narrative - in this era of fake news, we must correct the misperception that women lack ambition and confidence. Women are starting entrepreneurial ventures at a greater rate than any other time in history with a courage to fail forward and learn from mistakes in order to succeed. This intrapreneurial mindset is also employed by women in organizations who are eager to unleash their talents and perspectives so the company can thrive.

Mind the Frozen Middle – we must acknowledge that leadership is not just for the executive suite. Leadership is a behavior, a code of conduct, and a mindset that empowers people and organizations to succeed. Companies must engage and empower the middle of the org chart to create a leadership trajectory as well as a “lead where you are” philosophy for those who choose with intentionality to do extraordinary work on the middle rungs of the corporate ladder. Success should be defined by the individual and not just by those at the top. Middle level talent deserves focused attention and resources.

This is a pivotal time in history for women and an opportunity for a call to action. It’s time to reinvent the future and women’s voices are being heard as change agents that will redefine power to impact positive change.

Economic and social progress give women a chance to claim their power, speak up and to support other women, as well as men. Global studies indicate that when women progress, the world progresses. The world-of-work is at a turning point and empowering women will bring in a high tide, in which all boats rise.

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About Caroline Dowd-Higgins

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" (now in the 2ndedition) and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community Collegesystem and contributes to Huffington PostThrive GlobalEllevate Network,Mediumand The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana.Her online show:Thrive!about career & life empowerment for women is on YouTube. Caroline hosts the award winning podcast, Your Working Lifeon iTunesand SoundCloud. Follow her on FacebookLinkedIn,Google+,and Twitter.

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