The pandemic turned the world upside down with layoffs and resignations concentrated in female-dominated fields and massive school and daycare closures primarily affecting working mothers. Adding to this, a recent McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace 2022 study found that men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, directly impacting the availability of women to be promoted to senior leadership positions. Just one in four C-suite leaders is a woman.
Here are some of the obstacles women face in 2023 and what organizations can do to assist them in advancing in the workplace:
Legal barriers: Legal barriers that affect a woman’s ability to work include gender-based job restrictions and a lack of workplace protections and leave benefits. These barriers inhibit a women’s job prospects, earning potential, career growth, and ability to balance work and family. In the U.S., there is no legally mandated paid maternity, paternity, or parental leave.
Research has found that offering parental leave benefits helps employees and improves an organization’s recruitment, retention, and employee engagement. However, companies must ensure that leave is seen as usable and that taking it does not impact a worker’s career progression.
Insufficient child care in the U.S. has resulted from a lack of caregiver support, early education, and paid leave. The high cost of care in the U.S. can be a significant financial burden to working mothers who can’t afford to send their infant or toddler to child care. The U.S. is still feeling the effects of daycare service staff shortages which are more than 10 percent below pre-pandemic levels and have left about 460,000 parents (especially women) out of the labor force still struggling to find support. 34 percent of working mothers cite child-care concerns as the top reason for leaving the workforce.
Companies that adapt their benefits and policies to provide meaningful employee support often have a happier, more productive workforce which gives them an advantage when it comes to retaining employees. Employer-sponsored child care provides workers with the help, resources, and financial assistance needed to locate and pay for child care.
Hybrid and remote workplace challenges: The inconsistent and unpredictable working conditions of the last two+ years have taken a toll on women’s mental health and have caused higher levels of burnout and stress. Women are experiencing the effects of hybrid work arrangements, with nearly 60 percent feeling excluded from necessary meetings, discussions, and informal interactions by not being in the office every day. A Catalyst survey found that 45 percent of women business leaders find it difficult to speak up in virtual meetings, and 20 percent feel ignored or overlooked during video calls.
Organizational leaders have an essential role in creating and maintaining a balance between employees working remotely and those in the office. By recognizing resource and visibility inequalities, managers can offset them to level the playing field between in-office and remote workers and ensure everyone feels included and has their voice heard.
Inflation effects: In June of 2022, inflation hit a 40-year high. Given it has not been a significant economic concern for 30 years, research on the impact of inflation on women is limited and out of date. However, historically, inflation has been most harmful to people living on a fixed income and those in debt. From this perspective, women today are at risk of falling further behind because they hold around two-thirds of student loan debt, are more likely than men to carry credit card balances, and delay seeking medical care due to debt. This leaves women with less ability to keep up with rising inflation and ultimately feeling less economically secure.
About 63 percent of organizations plan to adjust wages in response to inflation. Other ways companies are helping their workers combat rising costs include handing out more bonuses, holding off on increasing employees’ share of healthcare premiums, and permitting them to work remotely to save on gas and other transportation expenses.
The gender challenges women in the workforce face have been brought into the spotlight by the pandemic. The good news is that the women’s labor force participation rate improved to 58.3 percent in January, just one percentage point below the pre-pandemic rate in February 2020. The Biden-Harris Administration has an ambitious agenda to promote gender uniformity. This includes a first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality and steps to advance equal rights and expand opportunities and support for women in the workforce. These challenges are also being combated at the state and local level by enacting pay transparency laws that benefit all workers—especially women, with the largest wage gap making just 82 cents for every dollar men make. However, there’s still work to do to get back the women who haven’t yet returned to the workforce and eliminate the legal barriers affecting women’s ability to work and advance into leadership positions.
Organizations that take these challenges seriously and work to level the playing field for women will undoubtedly benefit from their efforts in the current talent market and, hopefully, shift the tide towards a more effective and satisfied workforce nationwide.
This blog was written by Broadleaf Solutions Designer Kelly Reed.