Coronavirus: Six critical actions employers need to take to help women at work

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·4-min read
Cropped Image Of Businessman Using Laptop At Desk In Office
Deloitte’s survey questioned nearly 400 working women across nine countries about how their day-to-day lives have changed and whether they believe these changes will impact their future careers. Photo: Getty

Actions taken by employers will be critical in women’s working advancement post-pandemic, a new report has concluded.

Deloitte’s survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working women, published on Wednesday, questioned nearly 400 working women across nine countries about how their day-to-day lives have changed and whether they believe these changes will impact their future careers.

The data highlights the difficulties women face in balancing their multiple responsibilities at home and at work, with no certainty as to when the pandemic will end or when their lives will ever get back to “normal.”

The research brought into focus the threats to progress made to bring gender equality forward in the workplace in recent months.

Here are the six actions employers can take to support women in the workplace:

1. Make flexible working the norm.

Deloitte breaks down that flexible working doesn’t just mean “working from home.” It can mean working arrangements that enable the individual to have a manageable work/life balance and still benefit the business —whether that be reduced work hours; working longer, but fewer days each week; or job sharing.

“Flexible working cannot be a “nice to have” that applies only to parents — it is a necessity for all,” the report says.

In addition to having the right policies and flexible working options in place, this also means cultivating a workplace culture that supports employees taking advantage of flexible working policies without any fear of career penalty.

READ MORE: COVID-19 widens gender savings gap, with women having a third less money

2. Lead with empathy and trust

As working lives are disrupted by the pandemic, the need for leaders and managers to have open and supportive conversations with their teams has never been higher. 44% percent of respondents said they would like to have regular and deliberate check-ins with leaders who genuinely want to ask their employees if they’re okay.

“Leading with empathy promotes an open and empathetic culture that can build trust among employers and employees,” the report says.

Open dialogues can also help leaders understand the short-term constraints their employees may be facing, and support them, so that their long-term prospects within their organisations may be secured.

3. Promote networking, mentorship and sponsorship as ways to learn and grow — but ensure that this is done in ways and at times that accommodate different schedules and needs

Nearly half of respondents cited the availability of leadership, mentoring, networking, and sponsorship opportunities as beneficial to their careers. These resources can be meaningful platforms for career growth.

However, it is important to ensure that such opportunities are offered in a variety of ways and times to ensure more women in your workforce can leverage them.

Watch: What is the Job Support Scheme and how has it changed?

4. Create learning opportunities that fit within your employees’ daily lives

Professional development courses may feel out of reach to many right now, with one in three women saying they are unable to balance their work and life commitments because of pandemic-related shifts to their lives.

Deloitte suggests that employers should introduce creative approaches to learning that allow their employees to access the expertise and support they need in flexible and practical ways — for example, curated digital learning that is relevant to the individual’s development and provided in a way that enables each employee to choose when and where to access it.

5. Ensure that reward, succession and promotion processes address unconscious bias

More than half of the survey respondents said the most beneficial actions their organisations could take to support them is to promote them or give them pay raises.

While structuring reward and promotion processes to address the risk of unconscious bias has always been important, the pandemic has introduced the need for many organisations to look at contribution in different ways, including in the context of remote working and unavoidable commitments outside work.

Addressing the risk of unconscious bias in these processes, including as it relates to perceptions of women’s caregiving responsibilities, is more important than ever.

6. Make diversity, respect, and inclusion non-negotiables and make sure they are experienced in your company’s everyday culture

30% of women who question progressing in their career cited non-inclusive behaviours — such as micro-aggressions and exclusion from meetings and projects — as reasons why they question whether they want to progress within their organisation.

While an employer may have diversity and inclusion policies in place, it is the “everyday behaviours” experienced by employees that will determine whether they believe that diversity and inclusion is a real priority.

Non-inclusive behaviours in the workplace can occur both in the office or remotely: these need to be addressed head-on through clear messaging, training, and action.

Watch: How to answer difficult interview questions