The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed employee expectations, and organizations are rapidly trying to adapt accordingly.
Women are leaving the workforce in historic numbers, creating an urgent need for chief HR officers (CHROs) to understand women’s perceptions of the current employee experience, the future hybrid workplace and the drivers of retention and attrition.
A Gartner survey showed that 30% of all women surveyed intend to look for a new job within the next year, and 25% are actively looking already.
This is also prominent amongst female executives, with 27% having recently made phone calls or sent out their resume to find a job with another organization.
This mass exodus of women will have a permanent impact on organizations and their wider workforce and, while it’s difficult to pinpoint any one singular cause, employers must begin to understand and address the disparities between the way men and women experience work in the hybrid world.
To retain current female employees and attract new female talent, leaders must redesign their employee experience to include women’s lived experiences and preferences.
But what factors are impacting women and how can leaders address these challenges?
Focus on equality of opportunity, not equality of experience
One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic has been the changing attitudes to remote work, and in the past year businesses have been rolling-out hybrid work models to realize the different benefits of on-site and remote working.
However, this shift is not without its risks if the importance of equality of opportunity is neglected.
In a workplace where progression might be based on visibility, this becomes a problem – and visibility is indeed often a contributor of bias toward in-office workers: 64% of business leaders believe onsite workers are higher performers, and 76% also believe that onsite workers are more likely to get promoted.
On top of this, half of remote female workers said they felt left out of activities and meetings that could potentially enhance their careers.
Some employers may posit that the solution is to bring everyone back in the office, but this would be promoting equality of experience (everyone gets the same thing), rather than equality of opportunity (everyone is given the circumstances they individually need to succeed).
Instead, leaders must think more intentionally about how to create more equitable working conditions: approximately 32% of women want their organizations to set a minimum number of days per year when teams must gather in-person.
HR leaders must create a culture of fairness, move away from visibility-based management and train managers to assess performance on outputs. Meanwhile, they should strategically plan in-person collaboration days to help bring remote female employees closer to the team.
Empower women to own their own workdays
Providing equality of opportunity in the workplace is paramount, but businesses also need to invest more strategically in the wellbeing and mental health of its workforce.
When it comes to the gender gap, Gartner research shows that women are suffering disproportionately from fatigue as compared to men: while 54% of men surveyed said they have enough energy for leisure activities after work, only 43% of women agreed.
Individuals need enjoyable activities outside of work to revitalize them, but women are much less likely to have the energy to pursue these.
This may partly stem from the uneven distribution of household chores, with women spending 7.4 hours more per week on childcare, for example.
Without the ability to re-energize outside of the workplace, women may be starting their workday already on the cusp of burnout: 59% of women feel tired before they even arrive at work.
To address this energy gap, leaders must recognize that the person in the best position to decide what their workday should look like is the individual themselves.
Whether they are more productive at home or in the office, whether they benefit from more from commuting or having a few extra hours sleep – these are choices that women in the workplace should be empowered to make for themselves.
Consider career fulfilment
The events of the pandemic inspired many employees to reconsider their personal choices, and this is especially true for women.
A Gartner survey found that 65% of women reported that the pandemic has made them rethink the place that work should have in their lives, and nearly 70% of women with children agree that the pandemic has changed how they value certain aspects of their life outside of work.
Many female workers are lacking access to the re-energizing activities that offers them personal fulfilment, and some are experiencing burnout for a job that doesn’t satisfy them.
Over half (53%) of women reported that the pandemic led them to question the purpose of their day-to-day job at a time when deriving purpose from your role became a core motivation. Equally, 65% of men said they look forward to going to work, while only 57% of women agreed.
Gartner research shows that one of the important retention attributes for women is the satisfaction they derive from the work they do, exceeded in importance only by compensation.
Fulfilment has become a persistent motivation for women across the workforce and the pressures grows for work to be worth the potential burnout – especially following a prolonged period of time where, with limited access to loved ones, social activities, and travel, work became the only constant, and was, in itself, a constant.
The burden on organizations to provide fulfilling work is higher than ever. Organizations must understand what fulfils women professionally and ensure the jobs they offer include exciting, motivating and purposeful work.
Many women are leaving the workforce or looking to leave their organization in increasing numbers.
While the pandemic has made them re-evaluate the role that work plays in their lives, organizations are failing to properly adapt for the post-pandemic workplace that must enable equity, flexibility, and purpose. This lack of agility is detrimental to female employees and their organizations.
If employers are to mitigate the adverse gender impact of the pandemic and the mass exodus of women, leaders must embrace change and create a workplace environment that provides equity for all employees, giving women the energy to use their personal time and provide fulfilling careers.
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