Driving Women's Progress

Driving Women's Progress

Organisations must create improved and sustained policies that focus on gender inclusion and pay parity.


There is enough statistical and anecdotal evidence to prove that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a vast and disproportionate bearing on women in the workforce. The impact of the pandemic on working women can certainly not be written off or undermined, as doing so may have a cascading and compounding effect on the future of the workforce and the workplace.


When the pandemic hit the world in 2020, many professionals slipped quickly, albeit not so smoothly, into remote working mode. However, very soon, the ‘home office’ scenario started to create a skewed gender effect, resulting in a gradual ‘she-cession’ or ‘pink recession’ at the workplace, terms coined to reflect the adverse impact on women’s progress in the workforce and the widening gender pay gap.


‘She-cession’ at the workplace: Although the effects of COVID-19 hit men and women alike, more women are considering opting out of the workforce than men. A global study by consulting firm Deloitte ‘Women @ Work’ released in May 2021 says that 63 per cent of working Indian women surveyed said they plan to leave their current employer in less than two years, while 26 percent said they want to quit working altogether.


Some women are also asking for a downgrade in their positions to deal with increasing responsibilities at home—young children who need attention as schools function online (or partially online) and children’s education has to be managed at home. With connectivity becoming an issue in many households, with all family members using internet services simultaneously, women’s careers have been pushed down the pecking order.


Contrary to the perceived image of work-from-home being a blessing in disguise for working women, it has triggered a tricky balancing act. They have no cut-off points and time limits in both areas of life: home and job. As they are generally more concerned than men about increased household responsibilities, they take on the stress of a ‘double role’ more vigorously than before. The additional pressure on women has resulted in them dropping out of the workforce to keep their psychological health intact.


According to a McKinsey study of parents of children under ten, the rate at which women in the group were considering leaving was ten percentage points higher than that for men.


Pandemic hits pay parity: The gender pay gap deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with women being left behind when it came to financial compensation, according to ADP’s study, People at Work 2021: A Global Workforce View. When women re-enter the workforce soon, the pay gap issue will become more pertinent. Many women may face an unemployment penalty–a wage cut typically observed when professionals take breaks from work.


Inclusive policies at a standstill: The DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives at the workplace have taken a hit as companies continue to battle other day-to-day crises, thus worsening the already existing challenges for diverse groups. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt and “closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.” Simply said, it means it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide on its current trajectory. Experts predict that the progress may skip a generation.


Corporates have to proactively address critical women’s issues: Women workers, especially in emerging economies like India and Brazil, are twice more likely to report work-related challenges in the coming years than their peers in developed countries.


How can companies help women meet these challenges and drive their progress at the workplace? What steps can organisations take to cultivate a more inclusive work environment in 2022 and beyond? These are some key aspects that companies need to work on immediately to tide over the impact of COVID-19 on the women workforce.


1. Strengthen the weak childcare system


2. Bring in gender parity


3. Reskill women in technology


4. Help women in low paying jobs


Look for practical rather than ideal solutions: Diversity and equality efforts must certainly be revived, but HR experts caution against returning to the DIE policies of 2019, for they will not work in the new world.


Rather than coming up with superficial stop-gap solutions, companies should aim to nurture an empowering environment with sustained and improved inclusion policies.


Assisting women grappling with dual responsibilities: The policies must look to assist women facing the dual challenge of responsibilities at home and at the workplace. Company policies have to be adjusted and realigned to the new roles that women are taking on and support them. 


Burnout happens but reduces the pain: HR teams also have to take bold steps to address the burnout issue in women. They need to recognise and reward women leaders who drive progress in the organisation, to create a workplace where all women feel valued. If this means resetting the norms and expectations, it should be done on a priority basis.


Be progressive to ensure fair play: Companies need to fix the ‘broken rung’ by addressing the issues of gender disparity and the lack of adequate opportunities for women in the workplace. Companies must ensure women are compensated fairly for their work and bring in gender parity and pay transparency. It is as simple as that and no time can be lost in accomplishing this on the compensation front.


Upskill them to help move up faster: The pandemic has shown that technology skills will be the key to all jobs in the future and all diverse groups, including women, have to be skilled in this area. The onus is on companies to upskill women and improve their access to challenging and lucrative job opportunities. All these initiatives will not only help companies tide over the short-term impact of the pandemic and enable immediate recovery, but they will also ensure the organisation’s progress in the long run and create a long-lasting impact on the economy.

Veena Satish is the Vice President of People and Culture at MoEngage. Veena heads people operations and talent acquisition strategy as well as oversees the diversity and inclusion goals at MoEngage. She was previously the HR Director at Walmart and has also worked in leadership roles in Bloom Energy and Cisco


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