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Burnout Behind Job Exodus for Many Women

BurnoutDuring last week’s Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, the topic shifted to women leaving the workplace first during the pandemic, and now as part of the great resignation – which isn’t over yet as nearly two-thirds of workers are hunting for a new job, and nearly nine out of ten company executives are seeing higher than normal turnover in their organizations. Looking at reasons for the exodus, Michele Meyer-Shipp, who most recently served as the first highest ranking woman at Major League Baseball in the role of Chief People & Culture Officer, felt that for many women the cause was simple – burnout.

She’s definitely on to something. A recent report from Limeade, a software firm that surveyed 1,000 full-time U.S. workers, found that in fact burnout (40%) is the main reason respondents left their job, followed by organizational changes (34%), lack of flexibility and not feeling valued (20%), and insufficient benefits (19%). A June survey of 2,800 workers from global staffing firm Robert Half further backed that up and found that more than four in ten employees (44%) say they are more burned out on the job today compared to a year ago. And last but not least, a study by Asana of 13,000 knowledge workers across eight countries found that 71 percent had experienced burnout in the past year.

As if living through a global pandemic weren’t enough, the workplace shifted as the world adapted to shutdowns, surges, and all other associated pandemic issues. Being in the office, at home, back in the office, or a hybrid of both further taxed an already stressed system and women oftentimes bore the brunt of those never-ending changes. Meyer-Shipp was quick to point out that while no one size fits all, a lot (a LOT) of women are burned out as a result. “As people started to leave the workplace, women were picking up extra workloads and carrying the weight for their teams, their departments, their organizations and literally got to that point where it’s like, ‘enough’. It’s like, ‘seriously people like I’m not doing this anymore.’ I think we had a lot of that.”

Granted, many women and men were burned out before the pandemic, but during those first months they had time to think, time to re-assess, and time to plot a move forward that didn’t include the stress that was increasingly associated with their jobs.

Before you blame the employee for burnout because of their resilience, backbone, yoga practice – or lack thereof – you have to realize that they have little to do with the root causes of the condition. According to the foremost expert on burnout, Christina Maslach, social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, we are attacking the problem from the wrong angle. “Categorizing burnout as a disease was an attempt by the WHO (World Health Organization) to provide definitions for what is wrong with people, instead of what is wrong with companies. When we just look at the person, what that means is, ‘Hey we’ve got to treat that person.’ ‘You can’t work here because you’re the problem.’ ‘We have to get rid of that person.’ Then, it becomes that person’s problem, not the responsibility of the organization that employs them.”

However, a Gallup survey actually found that the top reasons for burnout are unfair treatment, unmanageable workloads, a lack of role clarity, a lack of communication and support, and unreasonable time pressures – all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. That furthers Maslach’s assertions that the root causes of burnout do not lie with the individual, but with the workplace as a whole. Current events such as the great resignation are not happening as a result of people not wanting to work, but instead prove that they’re burned out and need more workplace support.

Emphasizing the need for honesty and transparency from managers and employees, Brandon Greiner, vice president of operations for MedExpress, says, “An important first step in keeping stress in check is for managers to regularly check in with employees and encourage them to provide honest feedback regarding their workload, work environment and responsibilities.”

Lindsay Lagreid, senior advisor at Limeade, takes that further by saying that managers need to also start asking better questions. “Asking ‘How ya doing?’ and accepting answers like ‘I’m fine’ or ‘hanging in there’ aren’t going to cut it anymore. Instead, try more specific questions like:
*Have you been able to complete your projects on time? If not, why do you think that is?

*Do you have the resources you need to get your work done? If not, what else would you need?

*What can I do to make your job easier?”

We are still navigating unprecedented times and burnout, like so many other issues this pandemic has brought to the forefront, needs to be recognized and explored. That means we need to talk about it, look for ways to address it, and ultimately define ways to prevent it from happening in the first place. Keep in mind the fact that collectively taking action on this issue at every level is crucial to get and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. Ultimately, this is a time of reinvention and change, and in order to hold on to top performing women and men, the workplace not only needs to recognize the issue, but make some changes of its own.

Standing With the Women of Afghanistan

Stand_With_Afghan_WomenIn Afghanistan, the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops last month, signaled an end to much of the progress that women in the country had made, and many of the rights they had come to enjoy. While Taliban leadership assured citizens that they would allow women to work and pursue education, the hard-handed Taliban rule of the 90’s, left many Afghans afraid that those pledges would not be fulfilled. If the past couple of weeks are any indication, those fears are well founded.

Today there are no women in the Taliban’s newly named interim cabinet, and the country’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs was abolished. And although women can continue to study in universities, classrooms will now be gender-segregated, Islamic dress is compulsory, and subjects being taught are under review. All of this despite the fact that over the past twenty years millions of Afghan girls and women were able to attend school, hold a job and help shape their destiny for the first time. After years of not being able to leave their homes without a male chaperone, their educational opportunities allowed them to become judges, teachers, journalists, police officers, and government ministers. However, the Taliban recently told working women to stay at home, admitting they were not safe in the presence of the militant group’s soldiers, which means Afghan women are now effectively locked out of participation and leadership in the communities they helped form.

As if that were not enough, Afghan women and girls have been banned from playing sports as the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said women’s sport was considered neither appropriate nor necessary. According to NPR, ads showing women’s faces have also been blacked out and Taliban members have been erasing street art and murals that often conveyed public service messages.

How have the women of Afghanistan responded to these actions (and many more)? Loudly. Last week, dozens of Afghan women demonstrated in the western city of Herat to demand their rights to employment and education. This week Hannah Bloch writes at NPR.com that “Day after day, Afghan women have taken to the streets in groups large and small to protest against Taliban rule, the regime’s new curbs on their rights and Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan.” In Kabul, they demanded equal rights, and women in government and others demanded “azadi” or freedom. In response, the Taliban have at times used force — wielding whips, beating women with batons, pointing guns and firing weapons into the air.

This situation is only days old and events are continuing to unfold at a horrifying pace. Gloria Steinem reached out and asked supporters to join her in an Emergency Response for Afghan Women. Donor Direct Action, which she co-convened with South African Judge Navi Pillay, supports a front-line women’s group in Afghanistan that has protected Afghan women and children since 1999. She and Jessica Neuwirth recently spoke with the leadership of this group and said, “It was heartbreaking to hear first-hand from Kabul about the scale of this crisis and the utter lack of resources to respond. These women are fearless and inspiring, and they need our help. That is why I am convening this Emergency Response for Afghan women.” Women for Women International is providing emergency support for Afghan women, The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security is taking action to help protect Afghan women and human rights leaders, as well as many, many other organizations.

Write letters, donate if you can, raise awareness and lend your voice. We need to stand together with the women of Afghanistan and help them any way we can.

A Hybrid Return to Work May Be the Best Approach

Hybrid_Return_to_WorkAfter a year and a half hiatus, many offices were on track to open up in the coming months. While the current rise of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has scuttled some of those return to the office plans, many companies are pushing ahead and getting ready to welcome their workforce, ready or not, and get things back to normal. However, the new normal for many may not include long commutes, dry cleaning bills, desk drive-bys, and meetings for meetings’ sake. Instead, it may include a newfound work-life balance, the flexibility that many have come to depend on and the decreased need for childcare, not to mention increased personal time, money and time savings, and an improved quality of life.

According to recent surveys by Deloitte and McKinsey, as many as 1 in 4 corporate women have said they are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. Deloitte also found that nearly 3 in 5 women planned to leave their employers in two years or less, and they cited a lack of work-life balance as their top reason for wanting out.

That lack of balance is further supported in a new study by Perceptyx, an employee listening and people analytics platform, which found that compared to six months ago, 48% of women are less likely to want to return to their physical workplace full-time. The study also reported that women are not alone. In fact, roughly 24% of both women and men would prefer to adopt a hybrid working arrangement after COVID-19. Men, however, intend to spend 3-4 days per week in the physical workplace, whereas women intend to spend only 2-3 days per week. In addition, recent Gallup data shows that 10 million Americans are projected to be seriously considering the move to freelance to hold on to their newfound flexibility.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that work from home is not only possible, it’s preferable for many of us. Productivity stayed high, and in many instances improved. In fact, one study estimates the work-from-home boom will lift productivity in the U.S. economy by 5%, mostly because of savings in commuting time. That means, when it comes to returning to work, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A hybrid approach may be exactly what’s needed to appeal to those on the fence and serve as a way for employers to stop talent loss and improve their bottom lines. In a recent survey of 1,000 adults conducted in February by the workplace technology company Envoy, 48 percent of those surveyed said they wanted a hybrid schedule, of in-person and remote work, with 41 percent saying they were even willing to take a small pay cut to make that happen.

While the hybrid approach may serve to keep some women in the workplace or entice those that have left to return, it could also have an impact on women’s progress. Susan Lund, a partner at McKinsey and leader of the McKinsey Global Institute recently told NPR that, “for companies going down this hybrid approach, there are a lot of pitfalls to watch out for. And one is that you end up with a two-tier workforce, that the people – it’s always the same people in the room making the decisions and other people are on Zoom or video conference, and that those on video conference end up being passed over for promotion, not considered for different opportunities because they’re not there. So companies are being thoughtful. The ones who are pursuing some kind of hybrid approach are thinking through these issues. And how do we avoid that to keep a level playing field?”

SHRM reports that Prudential Financial, Citigroup, Google and many others have been paying attention to what their employees want, and are not only looking at the hybrid model, but also looking at other work-practice changes meant to support a healthier work-life balance. These changes, especially coupled with access to paid leave and childcare, can go a long way towards keeping women in the workplace full-time, rather than dropping to part-time or leaving the workforce entirely.

A successful hybrid model is, however, a balancing act, and will require a lot of attention and communication, especially in the initial stages. Tsedal Neeley, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and the author of Remove Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere, is optimistic, and recently discussed the many issues that are coming up as the nature of work changes with Recode and said, “Guidelines and the policies will settle. Competencies around flexible workplaces will rise. Individual managers will level up to figure out how to lead a distributed workforce. People will be more agile with using digital tools, so things like tech exhaustion will go away. After people experience the hybrid format, they will settle into a rhythm that really works for them. And I think that we’ll see more remote than in-person days.”

Ultimately, we need to make work work for women and make a return doable. Those who plan to continue working from home, whether in a hybrid or full-time capacity, must be proactive and regularly connect with management, as well as sponsors and mentors. They also need to establish clear performance expectations and understand measures necessary in the new-normal to achieve advancement and promotions. Collectively taking action on every level is crucial to get and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement, and if a hybrid model is how we make that happen, we need to look for ways to define and embrace it. Study after study shows that having more women in the workforce is good for women’s equality and their company’s bottom line. It’s time for women and our male allies to come together like never before and find solutions that will redefine the workplace now, and after this crisis passes.

When Our Stories Are Banned

Banned_BooksBooks are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind. – Toni Morrison

Books tell our stories. And when our stories are banned, our truths are hidden from one another and our ability to understand each other’s life experiences and perspectives is blocked. It is a violation of the foundation of a free society, our first amendment, freedom of speech. Yet every year, new books are banned and challenged in schools and libraries around the world. In fact, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to books, materials, and services in 2020 alone. While some of banned titles have been on various lists for years, like To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Toni Morrison’s Beloved or Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, many others are routinely challenged. The majority of censured or banned books are generally children’s books and fiction books. However, no list of banned or challenged books would be complete without a smattering of nonfiction titles, usually contested due to themes of political ideology, racial inequalities, and high school appropriateness.

The American Library Association’s “Freedom to Read Statement” points out that a number of private groups and public authorities throughout the country continuously attack our freedom to read by working to remove or limit access to reading materials. The actions are not singular, but by censoring content in schools, labeling controversial views, distributing lists of books they deem objectionable, and purging libraries, they give rise to a view that, “our national tradition of free expression is no longer valid; that censorship and suppression are needed to counter threats to safety or national security, as well as to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals.”

Just as our political and community landscapes have changed, the reasons for challenging titles has shifted too. In the early 90’s it was often titles with “objectionable” language and sexual content that topped the lists. However, James LaRue, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom was quoted in TIME Magazine as saying that there’s been a shift toward seeking to ban books “focused on issues of diversity—things that are by or about people of color, or LGBT, or disabilities, or religious and cultural minorities.”

A phenomenal book was recently brought to our attention, and recent actions have shown that some believe it falls in the “controversial” category, Vanguard – How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. The author Martha S. Jones, a historian at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in The Washington Post that the Lafayette Parish library board rejected a previously offered grant and refused to host a discussion on voting rights that included her book. Jones wrote, “What precisely troubled the board?  Vanguard foregrounds the Black women who, for 200-plus years, struggled to expand access to political rights for all. It argues that they are among the architects of American democracy.”

First of all, Vanguard isn’t stirring up controversy, it is a thoroughly researched and critically acclaimed retelling of the history of suffrage in America, and truly a must-read. It is a look at the vibrant history and struggle of the women who have come before us and paved the way for all women to move forward. Winner of the 2020 L.A. Times Book Prize for History, Vanguard is an “examination of the racism and sexism Black women endured in their pursuit of political participation and power. It also closely examines how Black women used that power to secure equality and representation for others, arguing that Black women have been wrongfully overlooked as forebears of democratic ideals in America.”

Jones offers readers a slice of history we may not (yet) be familiar with and introduces us to a number of formidable women. She shares their stories, their struggles and their wins, and helps reshape our perceptions in the process. Ibram X. Kendi says that “all Americans would be better off learning this history” and I couldn’t agree more. We don’t need to limit access to her book or discussions of topics some may find uncomfortable or “objectionable.” We need to make sure all of our stories – and the stories of those who came before us – are told.

The books that take us out of our own experience, those that educate, engage, and inspire us are often targeted and will probably continue to be banned in pockets of our country. Thankfully, in a majority of the cases, those books are still available thanks to librarians, teachers, students, community members, and the women and men that still demand access to the stories that shape us as a people, a nation, and a world. But we must all continue to speak up and demand it because as Jones says in her article, “People forget that history is not merely a recounting of past events but also a battle over who writes it, from which perspective and what those stories teach about who we are as a nation.”

Why We Must Help Women Get Back to Work

Back_to_WorkIt should be obvious why we must help women get back to work. The past 16 months have illuminated women’s fragile hold on the delicate balance of income-producing work and unpaid work at home. COVID-19’s devastating effect on the world has especially impacted women. In the US, women lost more than 5 million jobs between the start of the pandemic and November 2020. V, formerly Eve Ensler, writes in The Guardian, “Because much of women’s work requires physical contact with the public – restaurants, stores, childcare, healthcare settings – theirs were some of the first to go.”

The pandemic has intensified women’s existing challenges exposing the systemic inequalities that threaten not only women in the workplace, but our continued ability to thrive. V also writes that “Covid has revealed the fact that we live with two incompatible ideas when it comes to women. The first is that women are essential to every aspect of life and our survival as a species. The second is that women can easily be violated, sacrificed and erased.”

Many governmental and private organizations are scrambling for optimal ways to respond to the pandemic’s damaging effects on women. As the pandemic restrictions ease up and people begin to return to work, many women remain on the sidelines. In fact, there are 1.8 million fewer women in the labor force today than before COVID, and with widespread labor shortages, labor economists are worried.

Stephanie Aaronson, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution recently told NPR that the reason for so many women remaining unemployed is due to a complex mix of factors. “Some of those could start to subside as the economy recovers, and jobs come back, and schools reopen, and the health situation improves.”

“But a return to pre-pandemic levels could take a long time, in part because women tend to stick with the decisions they’ve made.” Aaronson says. “A mother who decided to stay home with her children in the pandemic may end up out of the workforce for years.”

That’s not good for the economy or the future advancement of women. According to the National Women’s Law Center, it will take 28 straight months of job gains to get women back to where they were in the labor force before the pandemic started. The US Chamber of Commerce recently reported that “there were a record 8.1 million job openings in the U.S. in March 2021 and about half as many available workers for every open job across the country as there have been over the past 20 years.” The Chamber calls the crisis “the most critical and widespread challenge facing businesses.” And its President and CEO, Suzanne Clark said that “keeping our economy going requires we fill these jobs.”

Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari recently told CNN getting people – especially women – back into the labor force is key to keep the recovery going. “We have to find a way to bring [women] back to work. This is about our economic potential. It is certainly about fairness about women and families. But it is also about our economic potential as a nation.”

The question now is, how can we best support women and help them get back to work? While access to affordable childcare, paid parental leave, and flexibility may be the obvious answers, there is more we can do within the workplace to change the corporate culture and make a return more manageable and appealing to women. Jewelle Bickford, Sandra Beach Lin and Ellen Kullman, founders of the Paradigm for Parity Coalition, recently wrote in Entrepreneur that many of the problems we’re facing now are tied to trends that existed long before COVID-19, from disproportionate home care responsibilities to greater representation in low-wage employment, to long-standing gender inequalities in corporate leadership.

To reverse those trends and make a return doable for women, Bickford, Beach Lin and Kullman recommend we should engage in unconscious bias training to understand, own and address both conscious and unconscious biases that prevent women from succeeding. They also recommend that we increase the number of women in senior roles – which makes perfect sense because when women advance, they tend to take other women with them. The writers also recommend identifying women of potential and providing them with sponsors, mentors, and the tools they need to advance and succeed.

Ultimately, we need to collectively take action on every level to get and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. And we need to think big-picture and develop plans to regain the progress we have lost during this crisis. By fixing the conspicuous inequities in the system that have always held women back, we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever and finally get women back to work in leadership positions that don’t get erased during the next disaster.  Equity for women creates prosperity and stable system that is able to weather future crises in ways that protect us all—men and women—together.

 

Why Men and Women Must Work Together for Gender Parity

Gender_ParityPrior to the pandemic, women made up more than half of the workforce and were on track to reach gender parity.  However, today women are leaving the U.S. workforce in record numbers – with more than 5.5 million women leaving since the pandemic began. In fact, female unemployment hit double digits this past year for the first time since 1948, and women’s participation in the labor force is the lowest it’s been since 1988. That rolls back progress and threatens to undo over 30 years of advancement toward gender parity.

The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island (WFRI) points out that women have received the brunt of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in a “shecession,” which has led to impacts on food and housing security, historic job losses, and childcare shortages. Women carry the majority of the pandemic’s economic burden by far and have lost ground on closing the gender wage and wealth gaps. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 states that parity will not occur for nearly 100 years.

What’s important to note is that we will not suffer the fallout from this “shecession” alone, and we will not regain our momentum alone either. It’s time to call on our male allies to work with us for gender parity.

Men are a valuable and necessary resource for helping women re-enter the workforce and providing opportunities for advancing to leadership. While a number of men become – or consider themselves to be – allies because they noticed gender inequity in their own environment and saw standing with women as the “right thing to do,” many others may be willing to help or change for the better, but are unsure of where to start.

To help men engage, WFRI is launching a 100 Men for Gender Equity campaign on Wednesday, June 9, and through a virtual launch event will provide thought-provoking discussions and suggested actions for men to take to effectively stand with women. Featuring Ted Bunch, co-founder of A Call to Men, the event will engage 100 (or more) men, to raise $100 each to work towards gender equity.

100_menWFRI also assembled a toolkit for women to share with the men in their lives, engaging them to be mindful and look for ways to share responsibilities daily at home and at work, how to lead by example, how to support legislative change, and more.

Beyond events and awareness campaigns, it’s important to remember that while women are often reluctant to ask men to become allies, it’s important to do so because men can help us create significant gains. It’s easy. As noted in Dr. Nancy’s latest book, In This Together, “Catalyst reported that men’s support for gender equality can be engaged by appealing to their sense of fairness. In addition, shifting away from a win-or-lose mentality to recognizing that everyone benefits from gender equality can lead men to become greater advocates who endorse our efforts to change unfair practices.” Especially right now.

It’s critical for women and our male allies to come together like never before and find solutions that will work now and after this crisis passes. We are in this together, which means when some of us suffer, all of us suffer, and likewise when more of us benefit, we all benefit. Helping male allies see how everyone benefits (even men) from gender parity and giving them specific actions, they can take will turn the tide on the shecession and push women back into the advancement toward parity. Men’s real, daily commitment to recreating the workplace in a way that welcomes and supports a more balanced, diverse management and workforce will liberate our concerns about gender parity and focus all of our energies to creating a sustainable and successful world.

 

Learning the Stories of the Women Who Paved the Way

women_in_historyMarch is Women’s History Month and is the perfect time for learning the stories of the women who paved the way. The powerful leaders and the pioneers, the passionate advocates, the homemakers, the trailblazers, and the dedicated forces for change – all of these women made a difference essential to our freedoms and rights today and to our path forward.

However, women have consistently been overlooked in historical narratives and popular history. Both words and actions that have shaped our understanding of history have long been male dominated. Education lacks exposure to women’s history. Anna White reported in Smithsonian Magazine, that despite the strides women have made in countless arenas, “the canon of American history, at least as it is taught in public schools, still has much room for reexamination and advancement.”

White wrote that according to Smithsonian’s calculations, “737 specific historical figures—559 men and 178 women, or approximately 1 woman for every 3 men—are mentioned in the standards in place as of 2017. Aside from the individuals explicitly named, many references to women feel like an afterthought, grouped in with other minorities….”

Where Are the Women?

In 2017, the National Women’s History Museum analyzed the K-12 educational standards in social studies and published their findings in Where Are the Women? Examining the status of women’s history in the standard required for state level social studies, the report found that, “women’s experiences and stories are not well integrated into US state history standards. The lack of representation and context in state-level materials presupposes that women’s history is even less represented at the classroom level. This implies that women’s history is not important.”

Where Women’s Stories Are Told

Women’s history is important, and March is the perfect time to tap into resources, share the stories of trailblazing women, and examine historical topics from a woman’s perspective. In honor of Women’s History Month, the National Women’s History Museum created their 2021 Women’s History Month Resource Toolkit, which is filled with links to biographies, events, and programming to celebrate this important month.

The Museum’s offerings aren’t limited to Women’s History Month though. As the largest online cultural institution dedicated to US women’s history, it operates with the mission to tell the stories of women who have transformed our nation. With public programs and events, educational resources, virtual exhibits, a study collection, library, and more, the Museum is sharing the powerful history of women in America.

As the Museum states, “Women’s contributions and accomplishments have largely been overlooked and consequently omitted from mainstream culture.” They are working to fill that void, as are many educators, writers, historians and others who also believe inclusive history is good history in Women’s History Month and beyond.

 

Loss of Women’s Jobs Halting Progress Toward Equality

Loss of Women’s Jobs Halting Progress In case you didn’t notice, women’s jobs are quickly disappearing amid the confusion of the pandemic. If we don’t act soon, we will lose over 30 years of job growth, which will have lasting impact on our progress toward equality.

Here are the startling facts. Nearly three million American women have left the labor force in the past year. In January alone 275,000 women dropped out of the workforce, meaning they are no longer working or looking for work. That’s following an equally dismal December – which originally reported 140,000 jobs lost by women but was recently updated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to reflect 196,000, with women accounting for 86.3% of the total 227,000 jobs lost. Whether voluntary or involuntary, these numbers are staggering, and put women’s labor force participation rate at the lowest it’s been since 1988.

President Biden says this exodus – coupled with closing of schools, and the mental health issues for children that could arise – constitute a “national emergency.” The impact of the pandemic is far-reaching and that means we need all hands on deck. We have to get women back to work, and give them, and their children, the supports they need.

Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s latest “Women in the Workplace” report found that last fall, “One in four women said they were considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the pandemic’s impact, with mothers three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for the majority of housework and childcare during Covid-19.”

This full-time childcare burden is falling in many women’s laps because it always has. Women have long carried the weight of the Second Shift (the time a woman walks in the door after work until bedtime when she cares for children, fixes dinner, etc.), but now thanks to a global pandemic, it’s become a never-ending shift. That’s due in large part to the ongoing closures of schools and day care centers and the loss of other supports women have long relied on. With male spouses or partners earning more (there’s that pesky gender pay gap again), women frequently have no choice but to step away from their careers to take over childcare responsibilities. When you add the bind of women providing the majority of workforce for  essential jobs without the work from home options, who takes care of the kids? Women, especially women of color, are often on the front lines in health care, grocery stores and other essential functions, and are the sole breadwinners for their families.  It’s abundantly clear that we need systemic change to support women whose work is essential to survival both at work and at home.

A recent report from the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress predicted that without government intervention, women’s lost wages could cost the economy $64.5 billion per year, which would prolong the current economic crisis and could, “put women back into a position of social, political, and economic inferiority.”

Emily Martin, National Women’s Law Center’s vice president for education and workplace justice said that if we want to see more working mothers stay in the workforce or re-enter the workforce, there needs to be a bailout for the childcare sector. She recently told CNBC, “The last COVID relief package had about $10 billion for childcare. And it sounds like a big number until you realize that more than $50 billion is needed to ensure that our child-care infrastructure is still there once people are able to go back to work.”

Prior to the pandemic, women made up more than half of the workforce and were on track to reach gender parity within the next decade. Study after study shows that having more women in the workforce is good for women’s equality and their company’s bottom line. It’s time for women and our male allies to come together like never before and find solutions that will work now and after this crisis passes.

Black History Month – Celebrating Women Who Lead

Black_History_MoonthBlack History Month provides a time for celebrating and learning about the triumph and struggles of the Black women and men who came before us–those who have made a difference, and those who continue to lead and inspire. With the entire month focused on the contributions of Black Americans, February provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the Black women who have done – and continue to do – extraordinary things and highlight the inequities in the system we all must work to overcome.

Black women have historically not been valued for their work, but it’s their work that has shaped our country. If rampant systemic racism isn’t enough to contend with, the Center for American Progress reports that, “Black Women’s labor participation rate is higher than the rate for all other women, yet Black women remain less likely than their white counterparts to occupy higher-level jobs that offer better benefits, greater mobility, and economic stability. Collectively, the economic disparities facing Black women reveal a stark reality – too often, Black women’s work is devalued and does not reap the same rewards afforded other workers.”

Despite the odds stacked against them, Black women continue to lead and break barriers that benefit us all. Here are just some of the amazing women we need to celebrate this month and every month, and empower other women to follow their lead.

Vice President Kamala Harris – the first female vice president and the first woman of Black and South Asian descent to be vice president. She is a former San Francisco district attorney and was elected as the first Black woman to serve as California’s attorney general. When she was elected a United States senator in 2016, she became only the second Black woman in the chamber’s history.

Tarana Burke – is a civil rights activist who founded the #MeToo campaign in 2006 when she used the phrase to illustrate the pervasive nature of sexual violence. Eleven years later, it found global recognition after tweet by actress Alyssa Milano. She has been recognized as one of the “Silence Breakers” and was named as Time’s Person of the Year in 2017. She continues to fight for survivors and point out the rampant sexual violence that permeates all of society’s systems and structures.

Shirley Chisholm – the first Black woman to be elected to Congress in 1968. She was also the major-party Black candidate to run for president in 1972. Throughout her career in politics and education, she fought for child welfare, black women’s reproductive rights, and more.

Coretta Scott King – one of the most important and influential civil rights activists of our time, she fought tirelessly for African-American equality. She did not slow down after her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, but instead continued to speak out on behalf of racial and economic justice, women’s and children’s rights, gay and lesbian dignity, religious freedom, the needs of the poor and homeless, full-employment, healthcare, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament and environmental justice.

Flo Kennedy –  was an American lawyer, feminist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and activist. A founding member of the National Organization of Women and one of the first black female lawyers to graduate from Columbia Law School, she helped found the Feminist Party in 1971, which later nominated Representative Shirley Chisholm for president.

Mary McLeod Bethune – a leading educator and civil rights activist, she believed education was the key to racial advancement. A champion of racial and gender equality, she founded many organizations and led voter registration drives after women gained the vote in 1920. In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and in 1935, she became the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women. She also founded the college that is now known as Bethune-Cookman University in Florida.

The accomplishments of these women and so many more that have often been omitted from the history books should serve to inspire and ignite all of us to march forward toward equality lifting as we go. As Dr. Nancy says, “We will not move forward until we all move forward together.” That means we need to learn the stories of Black women, and all women of color; we need to celebrate their contributions, so that together we can create a world that is just,  and benefits us all equally.

2021 – Getting Women’s Progress Back on Track

Womens-Progress

 

Many of us felt a sigh of relief to tear off the last page of the 2020 calendar. After all the uncertainty, the struggles to survive, and blow after blow to the economy, our collective nerves are shot. But the new year has not brought any change in itself. It’s up to us to focus on what we hope the next 12 months will bring, to look at the inequities that became glaringly apparent in 2020, to create fresh perspectives about what really matters, and to work together to get women’s progress back on track.

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on women and has blurred the boundaries between work and home. According to Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2020, “Women—especially women of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. The pandemic has intensified challenges that women already faced. Working mothers have always worked a ‘double shift’—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labor. Now the supports that made this possible—including school and childcare—have been upended. Meanwhile, Black women already faced more barriers to advancement than most other employees. Today they’re also coping with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community.” The ongoing stress of racial unrest and violence, inequity in all areas of society, in addition to having to work twice as hard to get half as much has reached toxic levels, whose effects will take years to assess.

All the stress, uncertainty and upheaval is causing women to make decisions that even a year ago would have been unheard of, Thousands of women are downshifting or completely exiting their careers, not because their jobs are disappearing, but because their support systems have. The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress’ report How Covid-19 Sent Women’s Workforce Progress Backward reported, “Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force in September, roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men. This validates predictions that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women—and the accompanying childcare and school crises—would be severe.” The report further states, “that the risk of mothers leaving the labor force and reducing work hours in order to assume caretaking responsibilities amounts to $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.”

“If we had a panic button, we’d be hitting it,” Rachel Thomas, the CEO of Lean In said to TIME. “We have never seen numbers like these.”

Women’s voluntary and involuntary exits from the workforce are not only having an economic impact but will also have consequences on gender equality for decades to come. We are at a crossroads and the choices we make today about work-family policies and childcare infrastructure must address immediate and long-term needs. Organizational and government leaders need to think big picture and not only look at ways to get back on track, but also be prepared to weather future crises and really fix the disparities women have had to overcome to advance in their careers since they entered the workforce.

The current crisis presents a historical opportunity, and as Women in the Workplace 2020 points out, “If companies make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace—and there are signs that this is starting to happen—they can retain the employees most affected by today’s crises and nurture a culture in which women have equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long term.”

The pandemic has exposed the gross inequities many women deal with every day and has made addressing those issues and balancing the scales a top priority for 2021.  We need to collectively take action that will keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. And we need to think big-picture and develop plans to regain the steps we may have lost during this crisis. We are all struggling with this continued uncertainty. These are the times when we need to come together to help each other through, not allow it to overwhelm us and remember that our progress is important, not only to women, but to everyone’s recovery. By fixing the conspicuous inequities in the system that have always held women back, we can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever and do more than get women back on track. We can accelerate that track to true equity by supporting 100% of the talent and productivity available—women and men together.

 

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