It was recently found that not only are parents and carers twice as likely to be facing redundancy (39 per cent compared to 17 per cent of the rest of the population), but one in four women are now considering giving up their career because of the stress associated with juggling work and childcare during the pandemic.
In the US, women in their prime earning years (aged 25 to 54) are now exiting the workforce more than any other group. This has prompted employers, including Microsoft and Google, to offer an extra 12 weeks of paid family leave for employees struggling with childcare issues. Meanwhile, Duolingo, the language learning app, has set a directional goal ‘not to lose any parents’ and is allowing parents to request reduced working hours with full pay and benefits.
However, as welcome as these short-term financial measures are, there are many other important practical and cultural issues that need to be addressed if you want to stem the loss of talent and ensure your gender equality initiatives don’t fail.
Continue to offer flexible working
The reopening of schools has far from alleviated the pressures on working parents, with two in five working mothers saying they are struggling to find the childcare they need because after-school clubs remain shut and care from family and friends is severely limited.
Remember that the vast majority of working parents proved their ability to be just as productive while working flexibly. Review your flexible working practices by assessing what has and hasn’t worked so far during the pandemic. Bring managers together (via virtual meetings if necessary) to share their successes, challenges, tips and ideas as a group to formulate best practice guidelines that can be used consistently across the organisation.
Encourage men to be more involved parents
A major reason that the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on women is because of societal expectations that encourage them to constantly compromise their ability to work in order to look after children, even though their partner is often willing and able to play a more active role.
It’s therefore imperative that any parental retention strategy targets both men and women equally, and encourages men to play a more active role at home. Not least because throughout this pandemic, many men have learned that they can be far more flexible than they thought they could, so they must now be given the opportunity to continue to play a more active role at home if they want to.
Think about the longer term
Although it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to the impact the pandemic is having on women’s careers, especially during a year when gender pay gap reporting has been suspended, it’s important to think longer term.
People will remember what sort of employer you were and how you treated them, which will impact on your ability to attract talent in future. Plus, according to research by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in executive teams are 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability.
Women, who are currently bearing the brunt of the lack of childcare, also need to be encouraged to think about the longer term. Many who feel burned out right now might very much like to quit. But coaching can help them to think about what sort of life they want for themselves and their family in future, while equipping them with the skill and confidence to talk to their manager about the support they need to ride out the pandemic and keep their career.
Helen Letchfield is co-founder of Parent & Professional