NATIONAL REPORT — Women in the U.S. workforce have long faced work environments that systematically disadvantage them, and those with intersectional identities, such as women of color, LGBTQIA+ women and women with disabilities, face even more challenges, according to a new paper released by nonprofit organization NextUp and professional services network Deloitte.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are now facing a job market where millions have exited the workforce to care for their families, or workers are switching jobs in favor of virtual options. The paper outlines how employers can attract and retain talent by creating a more humane work environment for all through gender-centered design.
“In 2020, employees saw their organizations turn on a dime to adapt their workplaces for the realities of a global pandemic. This opened the eyes of employees to what is possible. The creativity and adaptability that employers offered in response to the pandemic is something that employees do not want to give up,” the report points out.
Organizations must recognize their employees as whole people, rather than just workers. Humane workplaces consider the holistic needs of their employees. In doing so, they’re able to build equitable work environments where everyone feels they are included and belong regardless of gender identity, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability.
Gender-centered design prioritizes five basic principles:
1. Employee Mental & Physical Health
Post-pandemic, the gap in burnout between women and men has almost doubled. One in three women has considered either leaving the workforce entirely or downshifting their career because of burnout, according to the paper.
Organizations can start to address this with employee assistance programs that provide access to health screenings, mental health resources, and educational materials and incentives to help employees make healthy choices. Additional offerings could include financial education, onsite or online fitness classes, and flexible and remote work schedules to help employees reduce stress and achieve a greater work-life balance.
Trauma also can have a significant impact on an employee’s ability to focus on work and perform effectively, resulting in poor work outcomes, absenteeism and burnout. Organizations must understand the importance of being trauma-informed and should embrace open, honest and transparent communication; regular manager check-ins with all employees; and established procedures for employees to request accommodations and resources.
“Employees should feel safe to request these resources without fear of reprisals or impact on future advancement opportunities,” the report notes.
2. Caregiver Support
Women often assume the majority of home and childcare duties, along with care for aging relatives. Because of this, they are more likely to experience negative effects on their health, finances, employment and relationships.
For instance, a 2021 study found that among survey respondents who left their jobs, 45 percent did so to take care of family, and a similar proportion of people thinking of quitting cited the demands of family care as an influential factor in their decision.
Organizations can embrace the principle of caregiver support by providing and/or expanding stipends for childcare, nursing services, and other home- and family-focused benefits.
3. Consistency, Predictability & Flexibility
Prior to the pandemic, the needs and priorities of hourly workers were not so different from those of the women now working in a virtual or hybrid model. Post-pandemic, however, there’s been a “never-before-seen shift in the balance of both flexibility and career choice,” the paper states.
Organizations must offer similar flexibility and access to wellbeing resources for those in frontline positions as they do for those in virtual or hybrid positions. Different strategies are needed to ensure hourly and frontline workers are empowered to take time off to care for loved ones and can manage their schedules based on expectations at both work and home.
“Many employees are seeing the benefits of virtual work and, if not afforded similar benefits, will likely continue to leave the workforce in droves,” the report cautions.
Organizations with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) initiatives that segment groups based on just one element of identity, and develop programs around that, may be unwittingly excluding others and failing to address the experiences of employees that belong to multiple groups in terms of identity.
To ensure DEI&B solutions are intersectional, the paper suggests providing employees with learning opportunities that explore the intersections of backgrounds and experiences. Organizations also can create specific solutions focused on intersectional populations, such as women who identify as LGBTQIA+ and women of color. Another approach is to establish structures that encourage collaboration among employee resource groups.
5. Cultivation of Allies
“Marginalized groups are almost universally underrepresented in leadership positions within organizations. Yet these diverse perspectives and experiences are critical to creating workplaces that are equitable and welcoming, and these voices must be represented in leadership,” the report states.
Under the final principle of gender-centered design, organizations should provide allyship and bystander awareness training to ensure that employees have the awareness, sensitivity and knowledge of techniques to provide meaningful allyship.
Allies actively promote and advance the culture of inclusion within an organization. They intentionally make efforts to support and promote employees from historically marginalized groups by proactively calling out biases, mentoring and sponsoring individuals, and crafting opportunities for these marginalized employees.
The five pillars of gender-centered design provide a framework that organizations can use to begin building equitable workplaces that prioritize the health and wellbeing of all employees, NextUp and Deloitte explained in their report.
“With the right strategy, companies have an opportunity to reframe their employees’ experiences for the better and develop inclusive workplaces that take the holistic wellbeing of all employees into account. This, in turn, will help organizations retain employees and better compete for talent,” the paper concluded.