2020 has been a year marked by crises and uncertainty, and one in which gender disparity continues to reveal itself at alarming levels. The choices business owners are making today regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion will have significant consequences on gender equality for the foreseeable future. Although the employment status of people across all socioeconomic backgrounds has been impacted, women in particular – and women of color disproportionately – have been affected negatively. Primarily because of the types of positions they traditionally hold (e.g., hospitality, food service, childcare), but also because of the increased challenges that face women more than men in many cases. It is not surprising then that women don’t trust in the national structure of employment that exposes the inordinate amount of work performed by women – as well as the income inequalities – that has been instigated by the current crisis.
Working in the Home
Additionally, studies show that women do significantly more housework and childrearing than their male counterparts. In fact, women who work full-time are often referred to as working a “double (or second) shift” because of the hours they spend caring for and often teaching children, as well as doing household chores after – and sometimes even before – they have clocked out at their for-pay jobs. In other words, women’s work days are longer than men’s and it is common knowledge they are paid less in almost every instance. Working what can sometimes amount to two full-time jobs has led to many women not trusting that their employers will allow for flexibility (i.e., telecommute, early/late hours) to accommodate their responsibilities. And working from home is a prime example of where the burden on women is expected to be shouldered rather than shared.
How Women Affect the Bottom Line
Research shows that, in comparison, when women are well represented at senior levels, the organization’s profits and market share performance can be close to 50% higher than those companies with fewer to no women in leadership positions. This has been explained as women in C-level positions being more likely than men in C-level positions to welcome policies and programs that are employee-friendly and to support and facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion. Notably, the relationship between diversity on executive levels and the likelihood of increased financial performance has been shown to have strengthened over the years.
Women in leadership positions, more so than men, are also more likely to mentor and sponsor other women. So, when women involuntarily leave leadership positions due to crises in the workplace (e.g., temporary shutdowns, business closures), there is more than a reduction of household income that occurs. Corporate profits are affected, as is the championing of other women in business.
How Can Women Trust Leadership?
Companies can mitigate the risk of losing women in leadership, as well as increase the chances of attracting future women leaders, by building and nurturing a more robust culture that offers flexibility. Moreover, articulating what positive, diverse, and inclusive behavior looks like is an integral part of establishing trust in a business. And it’s important to acknowledge examples of such a healthy culture in practice. For women to trust corporate leadership, initiative must be taken and the representation of diversity, equity, and inclusion prioritized.
Communication is Key
Open, honest, and frequent communication is critical, especially in a crisis; leadership should regularly update employees on business news that affects their work and lives. Research shows that this kind of transparency reduces anxiety and builds trust among employees.
If business owners recognize these problems and actively address them, they can help their employees and companies navigate difficult times. Reinventing the way their business operates so it’s more flexible and sustainable for everyone benefits employees, leadership, and shareholders alike. If trust issues are not recognized and attended to, the consequences could hurt women, business, and the economy as a whole. Building trust requires long-term thinking, strong leadership, and attentive focus on the value of women in and to their organizations.