One in four women in the U.S. are either considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace entirely, according to a new report by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org.
“The events of 2020 have turned workplaces upside down. Under the highly challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis, many employees are struggling to do their jobs,” said the report. “Women in particular have been negatively impacted [and] the pandemic has also intensified challenges that women already face in the workplace.”
The report is based on research from 317 companies employing more than 12 million people and includes survey responses from more than 40,000 employees at 47 companies. It found, in particular, working women who are also mothers are struggling. Mothers surveyed said they’re more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving during the pandemic. They also said they’re twice as likely as fathers to worry their performance at work was being judged negatively because of their caregiving duties during the past few months.
“Working mothers have always worked a ‘double shift’ — a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labour. Now the supports that made this even possible for women, including school and childcare, have been upended.”
Black women, Latinas, Asian women, LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities are also all facing distinct challenges during this time that may influence their decision to stay with an employer or not.
The report suggested six key steps employers can take now to retain female employees, including: set a sustainable pace at work; draw clear lines between work and home; rethink performance criteria that was set before the current crisis; mitigate the biases that women are up against; adjust policies and programs to support employees during this unprecedented time; and commit to open and frequent communication.
“The challenges facing companies right now are serious. Millions of women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce,” said the report. “There are two paths ahead. If companies recognize the scale of these problems and do all they can to address them, they can help their employees get through this difficult time and even reinvent the way they work so it’s more flexible and sustainable for everyone. If not, the consequences could badly hurt women, business and the economy as a whole.”