September 1st, 2021

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Prior to the pandemic, women in the workforce faced a series of unique challenges stemming from rigid work schedules and a lack of flexibility. Though remote work during the pandemic has helped solve many of the original challenges, it also exacerbated some and introduced others.

It's clear that the events of the ongoing health crisis have struck a devastating blow to women. As your company considers how to bring employees back into the corporate office, learn how a flexible workspace can help support the women in your organization going forward. 

How the pandemic impacted women in the workplace

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it hit women especially hard. Government-imposed lockdowns and a sharp economic downturn cost many employees their jobs, but it was the women in the workforce, in particular, who were hit the hardest.

According to several recent reports, the pandemic has been so tough on working women that they're contemplating leaving their roles and potentially even leaving the workforce altogether. Twenty-five percent of women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their role, according to the Women in the Workplace report by Lean In and McKinsey & Company. And 1 in 3 women thought about quitting this year, according to the recent Women at Work survey from CNBC and SurveyMonkey.

Unique challenges faced by women during COVID

So why is that? While there are many complex and contributing factors, the following facts help paint a clearer picture of the unique challenges faced by women during COVID:

Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released some promising data in the monthly job report: Women accounted for 649,000 of the job gains made in July. That's a great sign, but it's important to note that women have lost nearly 3.1 million net jobs since February 2020.

A report by the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) helps put things into perspective: "One month of the pandemic's losses wiped out nearly an entire decade of women's job gains since the Great Recession." To fully recover from that, women would need to keep up last month's high level of job gains for nearly 5 consecutive months.

Impact of COVID-19 on working mothers

As mentioned earlier, women are shouldering most of the responsibilities for unpaid and domestic work, including the majority of the childcare — which during the pandemic was largely all handled in the home. Here's what the data shows about the pandemic's impact on working mothers:

 

Back at the start of the pandemic, 500 Women Scientists — a global organization made up of 14,000 members of women and gender minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine (STEMM), spanning 92 countries — penned an open letter about what they called the "mom penalty," warning that the pandemic could worsen the disadvantages women already face.

Not only are many women having to deal with the disruption of their daily lives, they are having to bear the brunt of caregiving and domestic responsibilities. With many schools forced to rely on remote learning, children have had to stay home, too. Remote work is much more difficult for those juggling schooling, caregiving, and professional responsibilities. It's no wonder so many women are feeling anxious and burnt out.

Perhaps that's why so many women have chosen to reduce their work hours, take unpaid leave, or leave their current role for an employer that offered more flexibility.

Impact of the pandemic on women of color

It's very important to discuss how working women of color have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid crisis. 

At the beginning of 2021, the BLS released some shocking data: At the end of 2020, women lost 156,000 jobs, while men gained 16,000. As a group, women accounted for all of the 140,000 jobs lost. When you really dive into the data reported, another shocking fact becomes clear: All women weren't impacted equally.

The jobs that were lost were disproportionately held by Black and Latina women.  There's another troubling layer to how the pandemic has impacted women of color. NPR reported that people of color are more likely to get infected with or die from COVID-19.

Additionally, the Women in the Workplace report found that Black women, working moms, and women in leadership are uniquely at risk of cutting back on work or leaving their jobs.

The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford shared this important suggestion for all organizations to consider, "No strategy to support women will be effective unless it embraces the importance of intersectionality."

How flexible workspace can help support women

If the return to work doesn't include a plan to support female employees, women in the workforce will be at a disadvantage. If companies demand office-based working or don't offer hybrid and flexible options, it could prevent women from returning. Or, if they do return, balancing their other responsibilities with a rigid fully in-person work arrangement might lead to time constraints and decrease engagement, and, in turn, mean that women see fewer opportunities for raises or promotions.

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How flexible workspace can help support women in the workforce

A recent study by FlexJobs illustrates how flexibility improves the lives of your female employees and underscores the importance of remote and flexible working options moving forward. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • 80% of women ranked remote work as a top job benefit, compared to 60% of men
  • More than half (60%) of women value having more flexibility over their work schedules
  • Not having to get dressed up for work was seen as a benefit by 70% of women

As you can see, remote work is in high demand. But there are also some downsides to working remotely. While working from home has many benefits, women have also reported higher levels of depression, stress, and are working longer hours.

Some women would prefer to work in the office either full or part-time. And according to a survey by Catalyst 1 in 5 women have felt ignored or overlooked by colleagues during video calls, and almost half (45%) of female business leaders said it was difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. The research also indicated that 62% of those surveyed said a new working environment will provide a better work-life balance.

The opportunity for a more flexible future

There are many lessons to learn from the global health crisis. For instance, employers are redefining what the standard workday looks like — and by most accounts, the future of work will maintain a level of flexibility. Companies are also rethinking the design of their offices to accommodate flexible seating options and even considering which employee perks to offer in the post-pandemic era.

The pandemic forced organizations to invest in new technology to accelerate their digital transformation efforts,  eliminate time-consuming manual tasks, and maintain operations remotely. And as work-from-home (WFH) arrangements became a necessity for businesses, the enhanced flexibility also made it possible for some women to balance their jobs with their personal lives with less hassle.

Another one of the pandemic's unintended consequences is the rising demand for employers to offer greater equality and a more flexible workspace. Flexible workspace has benefits for your entire workforce, but to get it right, you need to have the right technology in place. Find out more about how to successfully switch to a flexible workspace strategy.

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