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.
As we put 2020 in the rearview mirror, it’s natural to both reflect and look ahead to what might shape the cultural landscape in 2021. The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected everyone around the world in a wide variety of ways. One of the most permanent impacts will be the way in which we work. Technology helped many industries stay afloat, with Zoom calls becoming both a way of life and a lifeline for professional industries. This will inevitably be a year of rebuilding, but with this rebuilding new trends should emerge to guarantee our workforce progresses in terms of diversity, equality and productivity.
Women Make A Comeback
While we did not know a global pandemic would wipe a significant number of women out of the workforce and set gender equality back nearly a decade, we do know that diversity powers innovation and productivity and that our organizations need to bring these women back. To get it right, we should consider what makes return-to-work programs successful and the specific factors that lead to smooth transitions, strong contributors and, above all, more women in the workforce.
The first way we can support the comeback is by recognizing that employees can be very productive — in many cases, more productive — working from home. Research conducted during the pandemic proved it. By allowing for this increased flexibility, especially for women, employers will experience an appreciation and dedication from new employees that will yield value to the bottom line.Another way we can drive this comeback is by recognizing that hiring one returning employee or “returner” at a time will not move the needle when it comes to successfully bringing long-term talent back into the workforce. A cohort model is far more effective for retention. In this model, an organization gives a six-month test drive to a group of returners that includes a comprehensive onboarding and training process for the whole group in addition to the possibility of a permanent job.
Using our cohort model, 73 out of 76 returners we placed with an international company are still working and thriving there five years later. Following the onboarding of the 2020 cohort of returners, 100% of returners said that being a part of a team and going through the journey together had a positive impact on their experience.
By reskilling returners together for available roles, the company has a built-in community for women (and men) as they navigate their new environment. Returners feel better supported and companies hire full-time talent at a greater pace and scale.
Professional Development At All Levels
It’s a fact: Companies that retain talent save money, time and energy. The year ahead is the moment to make that investment to support talent at all levels. Through in-person or virtual programs that create a community for employees at all levels of a company, not just the top, organizations can increase their supply of diverse talent from within their own walls, growing and promoting within their own ranks the talent that is right in front of them and that they worked so hard to recruit. This will ultimately increase retention and help the bottom line.
Diversity has been proven to increase the profitability of companies. By taking a proactive approach to keeping employees happy and thriving, thereby retaining diverse talent, companies will move the needle for their shareholders.
In this new virtual work environment, gone are the days of sitting beside a co-worker, swapping both personal and professional stories and supporting each other with a reassuring smile. Now, more than ever, employees need relationships with co-workers to remain engaged and productive.
When we want to hear a song, we don’t have to wait for it to come on the radio anymore. Music is on demand. Creating a network of on-demand support for employees should be a priority, because no one wants to white-knuckle their way through completely on their own. A group of in-house and external female leaders who employees can call on for advice at any time should be instituted. We have to make mental and psychological support part of workplace culture to ensure the next generation of our workforce is ready for whatever unpredictable fluctuations might occur in their future.
Instead of just predicting trends this year, let’s create a call to action for businesses. Let’s try to create some workplace silver linings from the horrific year that was 2020. We can make sure women are emerging stronger than before as a powerful component of our DEI strategy so we are able to create a support network for employees at all levels of the organization. It is not enough to just democratize opportunity. We also need to democratize access to the support that is so critical to people thriving and rising once the opportunity is secured. We are in a new era where technology can enable on-demand advice, guidance and support, and convey a little bit of kindness.