The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but there is a silent force at work that has been holding companies together. It is time to acknowledge and reward this seemingly invisible force. But first, you should know what it is:
Women are the key to giving your company pandemic strength, but there some things you must do to unleash this secret power.
I’m sure many of you are wondering about the statement above, perhaps thinking, “How can that be true?” Others of you may be thinking, “Show me the data.”
The data comes from the just published 2021 Women in the Workplace report, a joint effort between McKinsey & Co and Lean In. This data captures the current impact of the pandemic. The data represents 423 organizations that employ 12 million people. It includes survey data from more than 65,000 employees.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the findings.
Women Leaders are Providing More Pandemic Support to Employees
The chart below shows that women managers and leaders have provided more support to their teams. They are helping employees to prevent and manage burnout, one of the key drivers identified as the reason for “The Great Resignation,” that continues to accelerate as the covid pandemic drags on. I wrote an article, “I Quit” – The Great Resignation if you want to understand why this is happening.
Women leaders are doing more than their male counterparts to ensure employees workloads are manageable by recognizing the problem early and working with employees to shift deadlines and priorities.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc with constantly shifting schedules, closures and openings of schools and workplaces, and a constant barrage of changing requirements, employees lives and situations have been in constant flux. One caller, uttering those dreaded words, “You’ve been exposed to Covid,” can upend entire families in an instant. Women leaders have consistently shown better support to employees as these shifts are experienced.
These female leaders are also tending to employee’s well-being by checking in with them and providing additional emotional support. The power of caring is strong for both men and women leaders as they check in on employees, but women leaders are scoring higher than men in terms of consistently taking actions.
There is also one more thing that women managers and leaders are doing to bring additional resilience to their employees during the pandemic. They are doing double duty in terms of providing mentorship and sponsorship. Anyone who is actively mentoring or acting as a sponsor for an employee knows that this takes a lot of extra time, energy, and effort. In the age of covid, when women are already overstressed, it is amazing that these leaders have the energy and continue to give more to their employees. The questions employers should be asking themselves is: “How can I get more people, both men and women, to do this?”
The answer to this question is actually fairly straightforward. You must both acknowledge and reward that behavior. And here’s the kicker, many companies are simply not doing this (more on this below).
How Leaders Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Some of the most interesting data from this study show how both managers and senior leaders are engaged in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at work. Note that this data is for those leaders whose “day job” is not DEI related. I think that sometimes by having designated DEI experts, many managers and leaders may feel it is no longer their responsibility.
The chart below shows that many senior leaders and managers (40-55%) engage in informal DEI work. However, when we ask who spends substantial time on this the numbers plummet into the single digits and teens. Some may ask, “If this is not my day job, why should I spend time on it?” The answer really ought to be, “if there are issues in your organization that get in the way of getting the job done with happy and engaged employees, then it is imperative that you spend time on it.” One of the big problems you can see from the data is senior leaders are more engaged in this area than managers. I believe that this may be driven by the fact that they can either more clearly see the issues or that issues are not being handled well by the managers and senior leaders must engage in “clean-up” efforts. It would be much more effective to offer additional training to the managers so that issues are resolved at their level they occur prior to any escalation efforts. This also puts the onus on everyone to better understand employee needs and DEI, which will make workplaces both more friendly and effective.
Why Should Companies Even Pay Attention to This?
The benefits of promoting DEI are tremendous. There are countless articles and books which demonstrate the business case for diversity. If you need to understand this in more detail, I can recommend my book: You Can’t Fix What You Can’t See: An Eye-Opening Toolkit for Cultivating Gender Harmony in Business.
But what about the benefits for promoting employee well-being and helping manage workloads? These are not new issues, but the pandemic has certainly heighted the need to do a better job in these areas.
Below is the data from the survey. As the ‘great resignation’ continues and the talent wars continue to heat-up companies will want to tap into these benefits. Having employees that are more likely to be happy, recommend their company as a great place to work, while simultaneously being less likely to burn out and leave the company should be more than enough incentive to push companies to change.
With all these benefits, why aren’t more managers and leaders engaged in this work? Some may not really understand all the rewards. Many simply fear to tread in this territory as it is too far outside their comfort zone. These issues can be fixed with education, training, and support from the organization. But there is another huge barrier that companies need to tackle.
How Important is this Work and How are you Rewarding Those Doing It?
The good news is that 87% of companies recognize that employee well-being is important and 70% believe that DEI is important. The tragic piece is that only 25% of companies formally recognize the well-being work. And just 24% formally recognize the DEI work being undertaken on their behalf. I cut my managerial teeth at GE and the adage: you only get what you measure is true. Many companies are simply not formally recognizing this work. And even employees know, if it isn’t being measured, it must not be important. Acknowledging and rewarding those who contribute is critical to success. We are talking about people who are improving business performance, so the rewards need to show up in the formal appraisal and promotion process. They need to be seen as direct contributions toward employees upward mobility and to their bottom line, in their paycheck.
 Thomas, Rachel, et.al. Women in the Workplace – 2021, McKinsey & Co and Lean In.  Cornwell, Karen. “I Quit” – The Great Resignation. Medium. June 23, 2021.  Cornwell, Karen F. You Can’t Fix What You Can’t See: An Eye-Opening Toolkit for Cultivating Gender Harmony in Business. New Degree Press, 2019.