Originally published in Forbes, and written by: Addie Swartz, CEO of reacHIRE.
As business leaders commit to bringing the 2.4 million women forced to leave the workforce during the pandemic back to work, we cannot forget about the women currently hanging on by their fingernails in a Corporate America that was already stacked against them. For women of color, women in tech and new mothers, a global pandemic has made workplaces plagued with implicit bias, pay inequity and disconnection even worse, creating “islands of one” with survival becoming the definer of success.
Women of color, women in tech and new mothers are the building blocks for the diverse and gender-equal community we need to create in the workplace. We must protect and support them with actions that show commitment to the roles they have today and the positions of leadership they aspire to hold tomorrow.
The Marshall Plan for Moms is a great start, providing direct payments to mothers unemployed during the pandemic and introducing policies addressing paid family leave, affordable childcare and pay equity that will help all women. We need to continue to push hard to fix the childcare problem, especially during the pandemic aftershocks we know we will experience. According to Northeastern University research, more than 1 in 10 working parents reports having lost a job or reducing hours solely due to childcare. Among those who were unemployed, 25% of women said it was due to childcare versus 13% of men.
But there is more to this story — and more that we need to do to support the women still in the workforce. Through my work creating employer-driven cohort-based programs for women, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to retention, confidence and advancement, the two things that have never failed any woman at any stage of her career are 1) community and 2) someone in leadership who believes in her and champions her success.
For women of color in STEM, representation in leadership is anemic and community is nearly non-existent. According to data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, in 2016 Asian women made up just 5% of the women working in tech, while Black and Hispanic women accounted for 3% and 1%, respectively. Women, especially women of color, often have no one championing their advancement or building their confidence.
It only gets worse when women in STEM become parents and have to navigate work and family — 43% of women switch fields, transition to part-time work or leave the workforce entirely.
Research shows that having someone you can identify with from an ethnic, gender or life situation in leadership increases the likelihood you can see yourself in that role too. Bringing women together and giving them access to leaders who can believe in their potential and advocate for their advancement is critical, especially during this time of remote work. Programs like the WayBlack and Women in Tech communities at Wayfair are great examples of this in action.
As we work to support all women and families during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, ask how your company is:
• Assisting with childcare for working parents.
• Providing career continuity before, during and after maternity leave.
• Creating advancement opportunities for women in STEM.
• Providing women mentors.
• Bringing communities of women together to share experiences and build confidence.
• Going bigger and bolder with programs for women that scale.
• Giving women access to company leadership with similar backgrounds (and if you can’t find any, that underscores the bigger problem).
• Making sure each group is represented on the path toward, and in, the C-suite.
When we can answer these questions through real programs for women of color, women in tech and working mothers, we’ll know we are truly making a difference.