We can disagree about many things related to the Covid-19 pandemic however one thing is certain – the world of work has changed significantly. From the initial need to pivot to remote work to the mental health challenges and the wide range of issues in between, the way we think about work and our relationship with a traditional 9-5 has changed forever. Women have been impacted disproportionately in this new reality, giving rise to the terms She-session and She-covery, which have become part of our pandemic lingo. So how have the Best Workplaces for Women™ mitigated these women-specific challenges and emerged as the type of organizations women want to work for and can thrive within?
A common theme appears to be optimizing opportunities for women and prioritizing their success. Women want, and need, to be able to see themselves in the workplace for the long term, they want to be ‘seen’ regardless of their physical location and they want opportunity. Here’s how to make this vision a reality in your organization.
Baseline for Women’s Achievement
Before leaping to maximizing opportunities for women, it’s important to look at the precursors necessary for women, and in fact ALL, employees to be successful. As one would expect, statements regarding diversity, inclusion and equity, caring, and workplace flexibility all enjoy very high agreement with employees at organizations on the Best Workplaces for Women™ list. Their responses to related survey questions are as follows:
Borrowing a term from Herzberg, these hygiene factors like fairness, caring, and flexibility are necessary in 2022 to create a strong, people-centered culture that allows employees to flourish and be their best selves. And that is precisely what women need from the workplace given the numerous, and sometimes overwhelming, competing priorities that life presents. Organizations that effectively address these potential sources of dissatisfaction have the privilege of a workforce that is motivated to achieve and that has an intrinsic passion for helping their company succeed. Key to this type of motivation is providing opportunities for career satisfaction, whether that means getting ahead or crafting the perfect role.
Women have been making significant headway in terms of workplace opportunity and achieving their career goals with more advances still be made. Key to women’s ability to get ahead has been the practice of networking and leaning on the guidance and wisdom of people who have come before to help smooth the way and create opportunity. The rise in remote work has had an impact on the ability for women to network effectively. And just like we are adapting to the realities of flexible work options that allow women to balance their competing priorities, so too we need to adapt our practices around connecting women at work and maintaining opportunities to network.
The Impact of Remote Work on Women’s Advancement
One of the most significant changes to the workplace since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic is the rise of remote work. What started out as a necessary response has emerged as a permanent option as workplaces open up. For women, this option is highly appealing as it allows them to balance competing priorities like raising children, managing a household, caring for elderly parents and working full or part time. Flexible work features heavily across organizations and industries with many choosing to offer a hybrid workplace and women choosing to work remotely at least some of the time.
This rise in hybrid work has made career advancement for women more challenging due in part to limited opportunities to network and stay visible when working outside of the office setting. The impacts on women are more observable as networking has traditionally been the key mechanism for women’s advancement, particularly to the higher levels of an organization. With remote work, there are fewer opportunities to chat by the water cooler and less face-to-face interaction invariably gives rise to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude by managers and colleagues alike. The isolation of working from home can further compound the issue and lead to women feeling less confident reaching out to people and less inclined to be proactive in their networking activity.
All of these factors can have a negative impact on women’s advancement so it’s important to be aware of this gap and address it with organizational policies and an overall culture that supports people to get ahead and forge the career path they desire. Evidence this is happening at the Best Workplaces for Women™ is revealed in employee support for statements like the following:
Creating a culture that respects people for who they are and the contributions they make is integral to ensuring opportunity exists for women, and everyone, regardless of where they work, how many hours they work, or the work they are doing. To establish and maintain a strong culture of advancement for women you need to be proactive and understand the subtle, and not so subtle, impacts of this new work reality.
Acknowledge the challenge of a hybrid workforce – Recognize that this new way of working will (intentionally or not!) put remote workers at a disadvantage in terms of visibility. Make changes collaboratively and proactively to counterbalance and talk about the challenges openly and frequently.
Pay attention to communication type, frequency, and participation – There is a tendency for team leaders and managers to meet in person with the people who are in the office or who they work with often. Meeting updates or status reports are then disseminated to everyone else. Pay attention to this habit and help leaders be more inclusive and include everyone at all times to avoid perception or actual bias.
Move formal networking sessions online – Where you used to have in-office networking meetings or events where only a handful of people joined remotely, opt for a few online-only sessions where everyone joins from their phone or computer. Putting everyone on the same playing field contributes to fairness in general.
Encourage regular networking – Create a formal program where women are paired randomly with other people in the organization to go for a coffee or meet for lunch (at the organization’s expense where possible). Sometimes forcing the issue is necessary and can lead to amazing relationships.
Establish a mentor program – Make mentoring part of your culture. Pair women with people in your organization who have the desire and ability to coach them and be their champion. Rare is the person who makes it to the top on their own so encourage your top people to give back and create opportunities for those around them.
Develop clear and inclusive career paths – one of the most important things you can do for your women is show them what is possible. Help them understand the different paths their careers can take and that whether they choose to move up or across, there are options, training, and support available.
The pandemic has amplified choice. Some women are choosing to work from home, some are choosing to work fewer hours, some are choosing new careers altogether – what the Best Workplaces For Women™ are doing is providing a variety of choices within their organizations so ultimately their women choose to stay. Highlight the options and talk about what is possible. Ensure that women see themselves working for you for the long term and that their success is an organizational priority.
About Great Place to Work®
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