When Boston’s Acting Mayor announced in June that all City Hall employees must be back at their office desks within six weeks, the reaction was akin to another very unpopular declaration in Boston’s history. But instead of tea, frustrated employees considered throwing their resignation letters into Boston Harbor. “It just seems so incredibly disrespectful” said one employee, referring to the lack of notice given to employees, especially parents without childcare options.
Such is the response feared by many leaders as they figure out their organization’s reopening strategy. An April 2021 poll by ZipRecruiter found that more than half the people surveyed prefer a job where they can work from home, and 45% said they would want that option after the pandemic abates. Business strategist Frank Ruppen noted that a Google search of “Hybrid Work Models” on June 1 yielded 967,000,000 unique data points. Chaos, he noted, is sure to ensue as the private and public sector navigates the post-pandemic return-to-work world.
Whether companies choose remote-first, office-occasional, office-first; remote allowed, or office only, one thing is certain — going back to “business as usual” in all other ways will not help female employees who faced nearly impossible work-life pressures, isolation, and career setbacks during the last 15 months. And since retention is a $30 billion annual problem, with the estimated cost of losing an employee ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to one and half annual salary, seeking new approaches to supporting and retaining women is a wise investment.
Here are three key steps companies can take to make the transition better for female employees and foster talent and belonging in a hybrid setting:
Make Childcare a Business Issue, Not an Employee Issue
The pandemic hit professional women very hard with nearly 3 million women forced out of the workforce. Covid exposed the invisible circumstances and pressures that have existed for women in the workplace for far too long. As reacHIRE CEO Addie Swartz and co-authors from Northeastern University wrote in the Harvard Business Review, childcare is not a family issue, it is a business issue. It affects how we work, when we work, and for many — why we work.
Asking women, and all working parents, to commit to a hybrid schedule while leaning on a still wobbly school and child care system, prolongs the stress from the pandemic, increasing the chances a resignation letter is in the future. It is up to businesses to think creatively about ways to build the childcare infrastructure needed to help working parents keep working for their families, and the economy as a whole.
Align Distributed Teams
It is critical that companies have access to programs that develop female talent together in scalable and repeatable ways across locations. Data shows that providing the time and tools to help women band together accelerates their success. Women are 2.5x more likely to be higher performing at work with a tight-knit circle of supportive women they can trust and lean on for advice and input.
Rocket Software, a global technology leader that provides enterprise modernization and optimization solutions for Fortune 500 companies and government agencies, is using the Aurora Platform from reacHIRE to implement a retention strategy that provided support and boosted engagement for its female employees around the globe.
Through a combination of small-group virtual meetings, 1:1 connects and a robust online learning curriculum all led by an expert executive Guide, the Aurora Platform helps participants virtually navigate their careers together and feel less alone, especially in male-dominated workplaces.
Engage Employees at “Milestone Moments”
Even before the Covid pandemic, only a small subset of women received professional development and support in a way that met them where they are in their career journey. According to a Deloitte survey about the pandemic’s impact on working women specifically, nearly 70% of women who experienced disruptions during Covid are concerned their career growth may be limited as a result. Three in five women question whether they want to progress higher up the ladder when considering what they perceive is currently required to move up in their organizations, and 46% of women said they want their employers to provide leadership, networking and mentoring opportunities.
A successful approach to engaging female employees recognizes the differences in milestone moments such as starting a career, receiving the first promotion, negotiating a raise, networking with senior leaders, planning a maternity leave, juggling work-life balance, becoming a manager, or pivoting into a new role or division.
For companies that intentionally focus on mentoring and supporting women at critical milestone moments in their career journey, the payback is overwhelmingly positive – 90% of female employees who were offered reacHIRE’s Aurora Platform by their employers felt more committed to their company, 100% of employees said they felt their company was “making their development a priority” and 100% said their confidence and leadership skills improved.
In many ways, the post Covid reopening is an opportunity for Corporate America to take a fresh look at what has been broken, and use the virtual technology we now know works to fix it at a scale and cost that was never before possible. For professional women and employers, that’s good news no matter where (or how) you work.