Tamara Bock and Susan Gross Sholinsky, Members of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, were quoted in Law360 Employment Authority, in “4 Ways Employers Can Help Women as Virus Roils Workforce,” by Anne Cullen. (Read the full version – subscription required.)
Following is an excerpt:
The pandemic has driven millions of women out of the workforce, an exodus fueled by service sector cuts and a dearth of child care options. But experts say there are a number of levers employers can pull to curb the trend.
More than 2 million women have left the labor force amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, with Black and Latina women representing a disproportionately high swath of those who the agency found are neither working nor actively looking for a job as of late last year.
Employment lawyers say this withdrawal from the workplace is bad news not only for women’s long-term economic prospects and long-fought efforts to reach an equitable workplace, but it’s dangerous for companies as well.
Studies have repeatedly shown that having a diverse workforce is beneficial for an organization, driving efficiency, problem-solving and financial performance. On top of that, employment lawyers say it’s risky for a company to stand idly by when women start heading for the door, as a trend of these departures can expose a company to discrimination liability.
“Looking at the sheer numbers of women that are dropping out, there’s litigation risk there,” said Epstein Becker Green employment partner Tamara Bock. “Plaintiffs’ lawyers are going to start looking at this, and saying, ‘wow you may have inadvertently made it a difficult place for women to work.'”
While women, especially Black and Latina women, faced significantly more job losses than men last year — in large part because the COVID-19 crisis devastated sectors where women predominate, like retail and hospitality — layoffs are only a piece of the puzzle.
A report from the U.S.-based consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. published late last year found that more than one in four women are considering either downshifting their careers or exiting the workforce completely as a result of the health crisis.
The core drivers behind these considerations were added housework and caregiving responsibilities, a lack of flexibility at work, and a feeling that they need to be constantly available, according to the report.
Employers would be wise to make an effort to alleviate some of these hurdles, experts say. “Companies should think about this and try to prevent it if at all possible, or at least put up some buffers,” Bock said.
While the impact of the pandemic on women in the workplace is a daunting problem to solve, here are four tips for company leaders working to ensure the women on their roster have the tools and support they need to keep clocking in.
Evaluate Workers’ Output, Not Attendance
In situations where employees are able to work remotely, the strain on women can take different forms, as school closures and lack of child care options may have cluttered their task list during the traditional nine-to-five. As women are more likely to bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities, they’re going to be less able to be glued to their computer for the entire workday.
Though, while supervisors may take it as a bad sign when a worker isn’t able to appear in every teleconference, experts say this isn’t the best way to fairly evaluate work performance when the pandemic has thrown everyone’s schedule out of whack.
“We’re learning that there are a lot of really bad managers who can’t manage their remote workforce, so they’re defaulting to who is on the Zoom calls, who’s participating, who’s there,” said Epstein Becker Green employment partner Susan Gross Sholinsky.
Instead, Sholinsky said taking stock of someone’s work product, not their consistent presence in a Zoom tile, could be a better tool for determining whether they’re successfully handling their workload. “Focus more on output than being present on a Zoom call at 3 p.m., which may be difficult for a parent,” she suggested.
Measuring productivity by this gauge levels the playing field between non-caregivers and those managing their kids’ e-learning schedule or caring for an elderly family member, and it can help ensure those with heightened responsibilities at home amid the pandemic aren’t being unfairly dinged at work just because they have more on their plate.
“Just thinking about work and productivity in a different way, and training managers in that regard can be a helpful solution,” Sholinsky said.
Related reading: February 18, 2021, HRMorning, “Help Women Workers During COVID-19: 4 Best Practices,” by Rachel Mucha.