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Celebrating Women’s History Month – How Employers Can Support Women in the Workplace
Since 1995, each President of the United States has designated the month of March as Women’s History Month through a proclamation. The month is set aside to “honor the generations of trailblazing women and girls who have built our nation, shaped our progress, and strengthened our character as people.”
Women’s History Month began in 1978 as a local weeklong celebration in Santa Rosa, California, to honor women’s contributions to history, culture and society. The movement then spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History celebrations on an annual basis. Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance designates a theme for Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” – which is meant to be both a tribute to the work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.
Women’s involvement in the workforce has changed in notable ways over the past several decades. Despite the progress made, women still face many struggles in the workplace, including a lack of mentorship, the existing gender pay gap, and fewer opportunities for growth. On top of this, the pandemic has also disproportionately taken a toll on women. A 2021 study conducted by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org titled “Women in the Workplace 2021” found that women are now significantly more burned out at work, and increasingly more so than men. The report notes that one in three women say that they have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year. Given these statistics, employers should keep in mind the following tips for supporting women in the workforce.
Create Equal Opportunities For Raises, Promotions, and Leadership Development
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up half of the U.S. population (50.8 percent) and make up approximately half of all employed workers (46.7 percent), yet on average earn less than their male counterparts. Although the gap in earnings between women and men is smaller than it was years ago, it is still significant. The reported that in 2019, women who worked full-time had median weekly earnings of $821, which represented 82 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($1,007). Additionally, women have been found to be underrepresented in leadership positions. For example, the McKinsey study notes that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted and as a result, men outnumber women significantly at the manager level, leaving far fewer women to promote to higher levels.
Employers should have practices in place to ensure that promotions and opportunities for pay increases are equitable amongst their workforce, and that the same rigor that is applied to women is also applied to men during the performance review process. It is also important that those in leadership positions recognize, invest in, and reward women who drive progress in their respective positions.
Provide Mentorship Opportunities
Finding mentorship opportunities can be difficult, especially for women when first entering the workforce. Employers can help support women succeed in the workplace by establishing formal mentorship programs that help to create growth opportunities and support the potential that women can contribute to the workforce. Providing mentorship opportunities will not only help women grow and gain confidence in their career, but will provide them with a confidant to whom they can turn with questions involving the workplace.
Offer Support and Flexibility Where Possible
One factor contributing to the lower numbers of highly educated and skilled women reaching the highest level of their professions is that many higher-level roles also require longer work hours and penalize taking time off. This in turn has a negative effect on women who often continue to bear most of the domestic and child-rearing responsibilities. Having flexible work policies that help women maintain employment and advance in their jobs, and having resources in place like on-site childcare, parental leave, and mental health services, can have a meaningful impact not only for women, but also more broadly for all working families who strive to have both a meaningful career as well as a work-life balance.
By acknowledging the issues that women face in the workplace and actively taking steps to address them, employers can create a workplace where women employees not only thrive and grow, but also are able to succeed.