Originally published in Forbes, and written by: Addie Swartz: CEO of reacHIRE, a provider of cohort-based return-to-work programs and the Aurora digital platform for early-career women.
Since the iconic bicep beckon of Rosie the Riveter in 1942, working women have scaled up and down based on society’s needs. Women were never paid the same rates as men and often had to abandon their jobs regardless of whether they loved their work, were more skilled at the jobs or produced a better product.
Seventy years later, we are fighting the Covid-19 war with similar homefront battles. Women are once again filling the gaps at home and at work, putting others first and working double and triple shifts. According to Boston Consulting Group, women have taken on 31% more of the household tasks and childcare — a whopping 15 additional hours per week — since the beginning of the pandemic.
For decades, women have inched forward, only to be stymied by a steady stream of socio-economic pressures. This crisis is a huge setback for women and years of progress is at risk. As leaders, we must determine how to make the investments and mindset changes needed to put women on a new pandemic-era path to leadership and financial security.
While we may not be able to fix societal structures, changing these three business practices will make a tremendous difference.
If it’s a financial decision between whether the man or woman in an opposite-sex relationship leaves the workforce to care for children or parents, the dollars will drive the decision every time.
According to 2018 Census Bureau data, 70% of husbands in dual-income heterosexual couples earn more than their wives. In 2020, women will make only $0.81 for every dollar a man makes, according to Payscale. Even when controlled for job title, years of experience, industry, location and other compensable factors, women still make less than men and, over time, that difference adds up.
During the pandemic, women are seeing wages slow to 0.2% year-over-year while men are seeing wage growth of 1.2%. The ongoing, inequitable pay split between men and women means that men will always continue up the ranks, while women will continue to fall down and out of the workforce.
Invest Earlier In Women’s Careers
A company called Chief has a brilliant concept of connecting and supporting powerful women and providing very valuable support to a highly vetted network of women who are leaders in their businesses. The problem is that women only make up 26.5% of executive, senior-level and manager positions at S&P 500 companies.
We are not going to have the number of women chiefs we should have if for every 100 men promoted or hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted. (The numbers are even worse for women of color, with 68 Latina women and 58 Black women being promoted for every 100 men.)
We need to fix the first broken rung on the ladder of leadership highlighted in the McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org “Women in the Workplace” report. One way to do this is by giving all women — not just the few “high potentials” — the tools, guidance and peer support that has proven to create strong networks and boost confidence.
Create More Flexibility, Support And Return-To-Work Channels
According to a Harris Poll and Yahoo Finance survey, 96% of men between the ages of 35 and 44 are still working the same job as before the pandemic, compared to only 60% of women in the same age range. For women exiting the workforce because of Covid-19, we need to make it easier for them to return through established and accessible return-to-work channels.
And for those women in need of flexibility, we must also provide ways for them to stay connected and feel supported. According to the Cigna 2020 Loneliness Index, 3 in 5 adults report being lonely, which results in less engaged, less productive employees who think about quitting their jobs twice as often as non-lonely workers.
It is true that when you become a parent, the “me” changes to “we.” But it doesn’t mean that working mothers should always have to look at their life and career as separate, destined-to-diverge entities. By working together as business leaders, we can create change that gives Rosie the Riveter — and millions of other women today — the career permanence they have long deserved.