The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the economy, and working women have been particularly affected. Industries that employ more women, such as retail, were hit very hard by the pandemic, and mass closures of schools forced many women to leave the workforce entirely to care for their children. As industry leaders, we must find ways to address and help fix the situation.
At our Women in Retail Leadership Days virtual event last month, we heard from three leaders who are working to prepare women for their successful return to the workforce. Here are three ways they think you can help:
1. Educate yourself on the Marshall Plan for Moms.
You may have heard the term “Marshall Plan for Moms” being thrown around recently, but what does it actually mean? The Marshall Plan for Moms is a national movement to specifically help mothers in our economic recovery, valuing their labor by advocating for policies that support them. Panelist Reshma Saujani, founder, Girls Who Code, helped launch the movement when she wrote an op-ed piece highlighting the sacrifices moms were making during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the country running.
Saujani explained that she pushed for change because many crucial decisions were being made during the pandemic that impacted women, but didn’t take into consideration women’s needs.
“A bunch of men came up with this idea of hybrid learning […] all the while [mothers] were trying to maintain our full-time jobs,” explained Saujani. “What terrified me was that […] they never thought about the 2.5 million women who lost their jobs.”
After fighting for gender parity for over nine years and realizing there was no plan in place for working moms in this crisis, Saujani launched the Marshall Plan for Moms, which includes basic income payments for mothers, paid leave, affordable childcare, and more. She’s urging that people have these conversations now, before it’s too late, and the gender parity gap gets worse or more women are forced out of their jobs.
2. Prioritize working women of color.
The economic repercussions of the pandemic have particularly been hard on women of color. In order to rectify this, panelist Shannon Gordon, CEO, theBoardlist, explained leaders must help ensure women of color don’t fall even further behind in the business world.
Besides changing public and private policies, Gordon recommends reaching out to employees and intentionally having one-to-one conversations.
“As a manager, [you need to] be cognizant of that [burnout] feeling, and be cognizant of the fact that there are alternatives to provide,” said Gordon. She went on to explain that these conversations are crucial, even though they’re harder to have through a computer screen than in person. Managers may be less likely to notice that their employees are struggling while everyone is remote, rather than in the office.
“I think just letting [employees] know that someone at the company cares and […] that there are ways to make things easier would go a long way,” Gordon shared.
3. Encourage all employees to utilize company policies, not just women.
Panelist Jess Huang, partner, McKinsey & Company, shared that creating policies to help working women during this crisis is only one part of the puzzle. Once companies create these policies, they’ll need to encourage employees to actually utilize them.
“You can’t put a policy in place that causes a woman to be between a rock and hard place,” Huang said. She went on to explain that women may not take advantage of the policies for fear that it will set them back at work among their male peers.
To combat this, Huang suggests male employees take advantage of these company policies, too. “What if men took advantage [of those policies] and gave their partners a chance to recharge, show up to work, and perform at their best?” said Huang. “One employer’s procedures and policies could really impact the ability for a woman at another company to succeed and be able to have a more sustainable work-life balance.”
Huang noted that for these company policies to make a difference for women in the workforce, it’s up to leaders to role model and set clear expectations, and for all employees to realize how their decisions can impact corporate America as a whole.