With pandemic recovery on the horizon, the resilient companies of the future will cultivate a workforce that is reflective of the customers and communities they serve. Creating an environment in which all employees can thrive is all the more important given the rise of new barriers to women in the workforce during the pandemic. According to McKinsey, 1 in 4 women considered downshifting or even abandoning their careers as a result of COVID-19 measures due to increased domestic responsibilities. For better workplaces and a more equitable society, business leaders have a responsibility to empower women to further their careers.
Inclusion and equality
It’s important that businesses learn from the pandemic to create workplaces that inspire connection, balance and equality. Recognising employees’ different roles and situations, and helped by collaborative technologies, they can explore what’s possible in terms of flexible working arrangements. Some simply don’t need to come into the office every day; others might not need to be office-based at all. Businesses can also reconsider their real estate, to facilitate an environment that better suits employees’ needs and new working habits. Ultimately, the future of the office can be a greater place for human connection and a hub for collaboration. With work-from-home being the new normal, there will be flexibility in work. Increasing work flexibility expands the available pool of exceptional, diverse talent on a national and worldwide level. The technology industry—or at least its largest players—will likely continue to close the gender gap in the year ahead.
Under-representation in tech
According to the WEF report there are three primary reasons for persistent levels of gender inequality. Firstly, women have greater representation in roles that are being automated. Secondly, women face the persistent problem of insufficient care infrastructure and access to capital. Thirdly, not enough women are entering professions where wage growth is the most pronounced. The technology industry is an obvious example where women continue to be significantly underrepresented.
The greatest challenge to advancing gender equality in the workplace, particularly in the technology industry, is addressing women’s under-representation in emerging roles, such as cloud computing, engineering and Data and AI. With a focus on improving skills and reskilling, workforce strategies must ensure that women are better equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that the digital economy offers.
To truly build a workplace that looks like society, women need to be represented at every level, particularly on corporate boards and C-Suite positions. Supporting women at all stages of their careers, investing in leadership development programs and inclusive promotions processes, will bring more women to the decision-making table and inspire more to rise from the ranks. At Salesforce, we are piloting a return to work program for women that enables women on career breaks transition back into the workforce.
Technology companies should continue to stay on course of their commitment to advancing gender diversity in tech as the pandemic recedes. Additionally, new-age technologies like AI, ML, Robotics and IoT are disrupting the industry and opening up a plethora of opportunities for both men and women. A report by Deloitte Global predicts that large global technology firms, on average, will reach nearly 33% overall female representation in their workforces in 2022.
Providing sustainable support to ensure equality
In an all-digital work-from-anywhere world, businesses have an even greater responsibility to create an equal and inclusive environment that translates both in-office and virtually. If flexible working arrangements are not implemented with care these changes put at risk hard-won progress in the fight for pay and workplace equity. Creating a two-speed workforce in which women choose to work at home and men go back to the office will only put more pressure on women to take on domestic responsibilities. As we normalise women in the workforce, we must normalise the concept of men at home.
Businesses must rethink how they can provide sustainable support for working parents, many of whom lack access to affordable and universal childcare. When it comes to wanting to have children, businesses must support and not punish parents for taking time off and also support them in their journey back to work. To build more resilient organisations and effect real change post-pandemic, equality must be at the centre of everything we do. Beyond implementing internal employee policies, as leaders we must use our voice, to engage with governments to advocate for sustainable support, for a more equitable workplace and society for everyone.
Equality and business impact
Creating a culture of equality isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing. Studies have shown time and again that a diverse workplace is a more profitable one. Adopting diverse hiring practices, and training programs that mitigate biases, connects companies with candidates they might not have otherwise been introduced to. Where women have taken time away from their career, business has a responsibility to support them in their journey back to work. Everything we do must be underpinned by a commitment to equal pay for equal work.
Inequality is everyone’s responsibility. As economies emerge from the pandemic, we must use this opportunity to create a better workplace, provide meaningful jobs, and prioritise reskilling initiatives so that all underrepresented groups can thrive. Business can be the greatest platform for positive change in this regard – advocating for, investing in and helping more women to take up roles of leadership. Together, we create a more inclusive society than we had before, where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued.