Want to Retain Women During COVID-19? Help Them to Lead
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Want to Retain Women During COVID-19? Help Them to Lead

By Addie Swartz, CEO, reacHIRE

Over the last few weeks, my social feeds have been flooded with articles driving home the same theme. One that resonated with me came from The Guardian; its headline, “Are female leaders more successful at managing the coronavirus crisis?” The Guardian summed up what all of the articles were saying: “From Germany to New Zealand and Denmark to Taiwan, women have managed the coronavirus crisis with aplomb.”

It seems that in the midst of one of our darkest moments, women’s leadership has never been more appreciated.

But then this hit my inbox. Titled, “Why the Crisis Is Putting Companies at Risk of Losing Female Talent,” Harvard Business Review authors Colleen Ammerman and Boris Groysberg warn that “leaders may emerge from the crisis with a long-term talent problem.” They predict women could become “collateral damage” and companies “run the very real risk of a female talent drain, losing capable workers and leaders that [they] need to make it through the present moment and to create future success.”

That’s a very different message.

Their words were tough to read because they are true. Without taking purposeful steps to support future women leaders during this time, all the hard work put into gender inclusion initiatives will take a giant step backward for womankind. And businesses will suffer.

Michelle Obama once said “the difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued.” We cannot afford to lose female talent when we need it most.

I believe that unlike the economic downturn of 2008, when we saw a “man-covery,” women who are supported and given opportunity will lead us out of this pandemic.

Here are 6 reasons why:

First, we have more women leaders with proven track records – from the world leaders referenced by The Guardian, to the growing number of women heading the Fortune 500 and serving in Congress (albeit still way too low).

Second, we have more qualified women entering the workforce than ever before and this will only continue; women outnumber men in post-secondary education.

Third, in recent years, women have organized and spoken out, pushing for women’s issues – from fair pay to #MeToo with no signs of slowing down or going silent any time soon.

Fourth, women’s unique skill sets are well-suited for our post-pandemic world. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright highlighted this on a recent CNN segment. She explained that the mix of responsibilities many women have – from home to housekeeping to jobs – give us “peripheral vision” and make us more decisive, open to cooperation, able to problem solve and less likely to be authoritarian. Once seen as a career-killer, women’s caregiving and family responsibilities are finally being recognized as business assets.

Fifth, the pandemic has impacted the careers of millions with unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. Historically, career breaks have carried a stigma that has hurt women in the workplace. But with tens of millions currently filing for unemployment, and eventually seeking work, it’s not just women who will make up the “returners.” Companies looking to hire will have to accept breaks as a new normal and no longer disproportionately favor linear career paths.

And finally, as more women leaders emerge, the way work “works” will change. We’ll see a greater focus on community and the softer skills that humanize the workforce like empathy, gratitude and listening. We’ll see an emphasis on decisiveness and prioritizing what’s important in order to take swift action. We’ll see a renewed focus on collaboration, teamwork and taking the time to continuously grow and fine-tune leadership skills.

I know women leaders will invest the time, tools and technologies to make progress happen.

While my company reacHIRE wasn’t planning for a global pandemic, we were preparing for more remote and distributed workforces and thinking about how to give workers – especially women – what they need in order to thrive in more isolated environments.

We weren’t planning for social distancing to this extreme, but we were developing a platform for women to build virtual communities within their companies, because research shows strong peer networks help women advance and achieve more than going it alone.

We weren’t planning for women to wear five, six or seven more hats at home, but we were building new ways for women to set goals, track progress, and support one another in small, dedicated teams within their companies. We know how important organization and encouragement are when we feel isolated – especially during stressful times.

What do you think?

How can we support women leaders today so they don’t become COVID-19 “collateral damage,” but instead lead us to a stronger and more caring tomorrow?

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