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Leon Kaye headshot

The Pandemic Keeps Piling on the ‘She-cession’

More evidence strongly suggests the pandemic is curtailing many women’s opportunities in leadership, career advancement and work-life balance.
By Leon Kaye

A recent study adds to the ongoing conversation about how the pandemic has many an impact on women executives in the workplace, with the results including the long-term risk of holding back many women’s opportunities in leadership and career advancement, not to mention their work-life balance.

Zurich-based leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder’s annual survey on women in the workplace contacted more than 300 C-suite executives and found several frustrations that women business leaders are experiencing, which continue to build as the delta coronavirus variant is throwing off many companies’ reopening plans.

Among the findings are first one that is intuitive: 97 percent of these C-suite leaders agreed with the suggestion that remote work is beneficial for their women employees. But there’s at least one drawback to meeting both the demands of life and work at home: Seven in 10 respondents said employees who spend a lot of time working remotely are passed over for career advancement due to the fact that their peers do not see them physically onsite.

Therein lies tensions that will continue to bubble in the workplace that many HR professionals will have a difficult time ironing out as the impacts of the pandemic persist.

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It’s clear the ongoing chaos occurring in many families’ lives — as in the stress of several people in a household working or studying from home, the added challenge of helping children with schoolwork along with helping elderly family members, and the fact that work and other responsibilities never stop — many of these burdens are largely falling on women.

Nevertheless, this survey shows there’s a high expectation that women will return to the office at the same rate as men. Egon Zehnder’s survey found that sentiment is shared by 84 percent of executives, with the top reasons that men and women should be “treated the same” (43 percent) and that women are effective at their jobs while proving to be effective leaders (37 percent).

Additional research completed by McKinsey and LeanIn.org found a similar trend: Many women in the office, virtual or physical, are performing an inordinate amount of “office housework,” much of which is related diversity-related work that at many organizations has helped create a more inclusive workplace. That under-appreciated and unrecognized work, however, is contributing its share of stress to the work lives of many professional women.

Scratching your head yet? Here’s another curveball: In the same survey, around 80 percent of respondents acknowledge that the pandemic has negatively affected women’s progress within companies, and about the same number realized that women within their companies have been balancing more personal and professional responsibilities.

Meanwhile almost all said the pandemic (clearly) has had an impact on work culture, business and personal leadership goals.

What’s the solution? Should employees and managers alike step it up and get through this time? Or is it up to corporate leaders to implement clear policies that ensure all employees can balance work and home responsibilities, and not be held on for doing so?

“Leaders [must take] allyship and mentoring to the next level, and go beyond expressing support,” the report's authors observe, “but take personal responsibility for creating a more inclusive workplace and ensuring there are opportunities for career progression across the organization.”

That sounds easy enough. The hard part will be executing such a policy, along with transparency on pay and promotion that not only cuts across gender, but also takes into account employees who work remotely, hybrid or are in the office full-time.

What’s happening to many women in the workplace is visible in the raw data, as in the U.S. government’s August jobs numbers. That month less than 12 percent of all new jobs went to women. “That’s a crushing drop,” wrote Liz Elting for Forbes, “and it reflects the sorry state not only of the job market, but of how America treats its women.”

Image credit: Utopix via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye