The McKinsey Women in the Workplace report which came out in September 2021 is the largest study of women in corporate America. It analyzes both qualitative and quantitative data from different groups of working women from 423 organizations. It found several insights, one being an alarming amount of women who have experienced some form of burnout from the pandemic. Despite the added stress of the past year women are taking on additional burdens at home and in the workplace and doing more of the share of that than men. Women are leaving their jobs or searching for new opportunities to be in companies that acknowledge much of the invisible labor they do. Organizations need to address burnout in radical ways to retain talent. According to a study done by the Maven Clinic, there are over 10 million working moms in the USA struggling with burnout and that study only documents moms. Thousands more are struggling and companies need to do something about it if they want to help avoid resignations.
If we aren’t careful we may negate decades of work done by the women before us, dropping us to levels that reach the pre-feminist revolution. If you study gender disparity in the workforce you will see that many companies have failed to retain women past the mid-career level and this is often why we don’t see as many women in the C-Suite. This often coincides with the time women choose to raise children which is often why women scale back or choose not to move into roles of increasing responsibility. This is one of the many reasons organizations such as WEST provide professional development, mentorship, and opportunities to help promote women and nurture their leadership skills. Without proper mentorship and sponsorship women struggle to rise up the ranks. Mentoring means being an ally and an advocate for other women in the workforce, especially women of color who are historically marginalized and underrepresented in the STEM area in particular. We need a culture of women who support women to provide the resources necessary to be successful. Even in higher ed female STEM students find it challenging to obtain an advisor that looks like them. The equation is simple, if we want more STEM papers authored by women, we need more women leaders in STEM. It’s not difficult to understand why females prefer female mentors. Women face certain challenges that men rarely do based on their gender alone including more cases of sexual harassment, maternal bias, and motherhood penalty to name a few. By mentoring women, companies can ensure their place in well-paid, STEM jobs of the future.
If we don’t act now, women will struggle to fit within the male-dominated culture that currently exists in STEM. By employing and retaining women and women of color we can ensure that the women that come after us are supported in their roles as leaders. Hiring managers need to evaluate their hiring practices and check themselves for inherent biases they may have about women. Women with children often suffer from the motherhood penalty which penalizes moms by paying them less than their male and childless female counterparts. This is especially concerning since COVID-19 has placed unfair demands on moms with small children as they have been tasked with the bulk of the housework and homeschooling duties of their children while trying to work from home. The emotional burden of child-rearing often falls on moms even in situations where the father is the primary caregiver. In the past 6 months, I have personally had numerous conversations with women in high power positions who have taken a step away from their careers to raise their children in the pandemic. Without the proper representation of females in leadership how can a male-dominated C-suite of executives be responsible for all the major decision-making that could potentially negatively affect the lives and experiences of their female employees? Hiring female talent at all levels of an organization is important but what you do once they are there is even more important.
Many of us know about trauma-aware teaching, but what about trauma-aware workplaces? Workplaces need to adopt an empathetic, flexible environment if they want to retain their female talent. Some of the women that continued to hang on were exhausted and fraught with guilt trying to juggle the never-ending demands of trying to soothe small children, protect their families from the virus, maintain a “professional” appearance on endless zoom calls and keep up with a somewhat uncluttered home. Many women have PTSD from the worst months of the pandemic. And even now children under the age of 12 aren’t yet vaccinated and could potentially end up quarantined multiple times in a school year making working full time in an office a difficult endeavor. Women who care for their aging parents are also feeling fatigued and overwhelmed. Letting women have flex time and flexible work arrangements is one way to nurture female talent. And those that are working from home shouldn’t be penalized, excluded, or feel the pressure to turn their camera on for every meeting. Zoom fatigue is real, and sometimes seeing oneself on camera can trigger negative emotions. There are multiple ways to check in to see if employees are engaged like digital collaboration tools, chat pods, and polling technology. We need to take a page from the trauma-informed pedagogy literature and implement some of the same strategies in the corporate landscape.
In conclusion, if you want to prevent your female employees from leaving, lead with empathy. Offer flexible work arrangements, mentorship, and representation and continue to support women’s socio-emotional needs through employee health programs and professional development opportunities. Employer subsidized childcare is another perk that would help retain women. The mental load and emotional labor women bear may be invisible but it is exhausting. And when it isn’t valued in society it can be demoralizing. Women disproportionately bear the mental load which has to do with all the tasks, details, logistics, and planning women are expected to do both in career and at home. Despite this, women have thrived during the pandemic, showing they can achieve great things at work. Some careers, particularly front-line workers may not have a choice in where they can accomplish their work but even in this case, there are several practices companies can do to retain, nurture and support females and in turn change the narrative of the great resignation.