During the pandemic 1.7m women left the U.S workforce and did not come back – and the trend is replicated in many countries globally.
Burnout, layoffs in roles overrepresented by women (hospitality, retail), and women taking on more of the work at home, all mean gender parity in the workforce stands at 62.9%. the lowest level registered since the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index began in 2006.
As we found in ManpowerGroup’s 2023 workforce trends report, The New Human Age, women want work to work for them. In order to do that, organizations need to reimagine when, where and how work gets done, offer pay equity, and advance reskilling, all of which will not only bring women back, but help ease the global talent crisis.
To find practical solutions to reverse this trend ManpowerGroup’s Becky Frankiewicz, brought together an all-star, all-women lineup of leaders including Cisco’s Francine Katsoudas, Women Political Leaders’ Silvana Koch-Mehrin, and moderator Nadira Tudor for a session on Women in the Post-Pandemic World of Work during WEF’s 2023 Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. From autonomy and flexibility, to opportunities for learning and mentorship, the passionate panel shared personal stories and practical guidance to accelerate gender parity.
Here are several ways that employers and individuals can help women succeed in the post-pandemic world of work:
1. Listen. Women are Asking for Companies to Do More
While no one was spared from the effects of COVID-19, the impact on women has been disproportionately high and more severe. But before we can solve any problems Frankiewicz says we need to address and understand how women are currently feeling about work.
“Women believe companies should be doing more. They are burned out. They're feeling undervalued and underappreciated. They want autonomy on their terms,” says Frankiewicz. “They want equality in pay, fair pay for fair work, and fair pay for the same work. And they want empathetic leaders and managers who take the time to get to know the challenges they're having both in and outside the workplace.”
2. Realize We Need to Go Back to the Future, Not the Past
One reason why more women haven’t come back is that they want to come back to not only a different workplace but a different way of working. To do that and make work more appealing, Katsoudas cautions that companies who expect their people to work the way they did before will be challenged to reengage their workforce.
“We all have to figure out how to make the office a magnet, not a mandate. The way we do that is by focusing on the work. We make it really clear that for this particular type of work, we're best when we're together. When we tell our people that they come in. They want to feel like the culture works for them,” Katsoudas says. “If we are asking them to come in, sit in front of their computer and do e-mail, women and men alike are going to say, ‘I can do that from home.’ And we all know better now.”
3. Trust – Flexibility / Hybrid are Hot Topics, its Autonomy that Matters Most
We’ve witnessed a working revolution – which has meant different things for everyone. To bring women back into the workforce, and empower them, we have to take advantage of the tools at our disposal such as flexibility, and not just hybrid working. In order to do that, a foundation built on trust will be key according to Koch-Mehrin.
“You trust. You trust the people, you trust that they want to do the job, and you trust them to do the job. It doesn't matter if they sit at an office desk, or if they sit at home, or if they even sit somewhere else. What matters is to get the job done and to deliver on it,” says Koch-Mehrin. “COVID really gave insight to all of us that nothing is granted, and we can adapt and do things completely differently to what we thought we would do.”
4. Invest in Education, Experience, and Exposure
Women need better support and resources for career development and advancement. Companies should invest in training and mentoring programs that target women and provide them with the skills and networking opportunities they need to advance in their careers.
Whether we call it mentorship, sponsorship, or even friendship, Frankiewicz advises people to support each other.
“I've been the benefactor of many, many women and men who have invested in me, who took bets on me, who saw things in me that I didn't see in myself,” Frankiewicz says. “We were asked recently by our leadership team to reflect over the last year on what's our proudest accomplishments. And without thinking, I said, ‘Enabling a team to achieve things they didn't know they could’ because to me, that's what helps us unlock in ourselves things that we don't see.”
5. Take a Whole Person Approach
Recognizing that taking a holistic approach to support women at work is crucial for creating a more inclusive, supportive, and equitable working environment. This approach addresses not just the individual needs of women, but also the systemic barriers and biases that they face.
Understanding the whole person, their needs, struggles, and what they were going through, is something Cisco focused on early in the pandemic according to Katsoudas. By doing so, it helped inform their research with the female quotient that shows when women feel resilient in their home life that shows up in work and vice-versa.
“We have to feel comfortable talking about the whole person, and not just the work part of what we do, says Katsoudas. “In doing that, we help everyone navigate through this next stage until we find the magic way for all of us to work.”
The post-pandemic world of work presents new challenges for women, but it also provides an opportunity for employers to create a more equitable and supportive workplace. Women want to be treated as equals and given the same opportunities as men. This includes equal pay, flexible work arrangements, representation in leadership roles, and support for career development. By addressing these issues, companies can create a more inclusive and equitable workforce for everyone.