The pandemic’s detrimental impact on gender equality is not going to be fixed anytime soon. Sixty-two percent of women are currently either looking for a new job or plan to leave their employer in the next two years, according to Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2022 study. Women are also more likely to be looking for a new role now than they were a year ago, with burnout cited as the top driving factor.
This comes as no surprise to Maria Colacurcio, CEO at workplace equity analytics platform Syndio. At the recent Salesforce Trailblazing Women Summit, she told attendees that the shift to remote and flexible work is a double-edged sword:
We really have to stop as leaders and say, yes, my people want remote, they want flexibility, but there's also this complete obliteration of boundaries. We are going from work to life to work to life.
For its part, Syndio offers its staff unlimited PTO, but when Colacurcio checked the data, she realized that a lot of people either weren't taking holiday time, or if they were taking time off, they were still 'plugged in'.
The firm now has two mandatory shutdowns a year, between the July 4th holiday and between Christmas and New Year, to ensure all its workers have some downtime, explained Colacurcio:
Someone could say, 'You offer unlimited PTO; if they're not going to take it, that's their problem!'. But it's not. You're putting your people, your most valued asset, in an environment where they don't feel they have the luxury to turn off or disconnect, maybe it's because they're going to come back to a mountain of work, and that gives them anxiety.”
Some employers already realized the correlation between burnout and resignations pre-pandemic. At Indeed Hiring Hub, the entire company across the globe takes a day off every month. Tara Sinclair, Economist and Senior Fellow at Indeed Hiring Hub, said:
It's amazing because Slack is quiet. You go back and check on Monday, there's nothing from Friday. Something that Indeed has always done well in terms of work/life balance is that even over the weekends, there is little to no communication on Slack or email.
For flexible arrangements to really work for women in the future, firms need to ensure those who are taking advantage of flexibility have the same career opportunities and progression as anyone else, and this is visible to other staff. When she had her son 12 years ago, Dounia Senawi, Principal, US Digital Customer Offering Leader at Deloitte, was working in financial services where maternity leave was just 12 weeks:
There was a lot of chatter about, are you going to take your entire 12 weeks? You felt like you needed to be engaged still all the time, even though you were out, especially so that you wouldn't miss out on opportunities for upward advancement.
The situation has changed for the better at Senawi’s current employer, which offers 16 weeks of maternity and paternity leave, she added:
Now, the discussion is all about making sure people take the entire 16 weeks off and completely disconnect the entire time.
Deloitte is also supportive of her as a working single mother, she said:
I'm really unapologetic as a single mom about the days that I'm just not going to travel, about when I'm going to take off early because I myself want to pick up my son from school and see his face when he's running to the car. I make the decisions around what's best for me and my son, and I'm a better mom for it and a better leader and the company supports it in words and in actions.
Time to think
This current period of economic volatility and uncertainty is a good time for leaders to think about what their legacy will be once the situation calms down. Colacurcio explained:
When facing crisis in my company, do I want how I value my people to take a backseat? Is that how I want to be remembered? Or do I want to take this opportunity to ensure that in good times, in bad and volatile times, in times where things might be uncertain, I continue to put my people first. I continue to make sure through empathy and transparency that my people trusted me and knew I was making not only the best decisions for the business, but the best decisions to make sure I held onto that trust when we came out the other side.
For those businesses still unconvinced about the importance of putting their people first, the great renegotiation (as the Great Resignation was dubbed by the Trailblazing Women panel) is likely to force their hand. The balance of power in the jobs market has massively shifted to employees; this leaves businesses worrying about how to make their vacancies appealing to candidates, rather than putting the onus on job-seekers to impress the employer. Sinclair explained:
Obviously a lot of time it's about showing me the money, and we don't want to in any way step back from that very important piece of the puzzle. But there are a lot of employers, particularly small businesses, where they say - I can't do more money, what can I do?
There are all sorts of other ways that we can think about making both the workplace more appealing as well as growing the pool of potential candidates. If we think about some male-dominated industries, maybe we could expand that to a much broader pool, and maybe we could offer benefits that make it easier for women to enter these workplaces that maybe previously didn't feel so comfortable and welcoming.”
Another payoff for firms is that happy workers are going to be more productive, more loyal, and those are going to accrue in terms of benefits to the employers. Sinclair added:
We can grow the entire economy with this inclusive perspective.
On the topic of inclusivity, Colacurcio had a message for businesses about their approach to DEI and its relation to pay parity.
Any company that starts with DEI is really missing the foundational elements to be a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. You first have to ensure that you're not disproportionately paying people or giving people opportunities in a way that is inequitable, making sure you don't have disparities because of gender, race, ethnicity or other things.