Recovering from the Pandemic: How Northeast Indiana Employers Can Attract and Retain Female Talent

Posted: June 7th 2021

As life returns to a ‘new normal,’ employers are facing a new reality. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected millions of women, who bear the brunt of loss of childcare, quarantining children and providing education. According to Oxfam International, women’s lost income during 2020 cost women globally over $800 billion, equivalent to more than the combined gross domestic product of 98 countries. Women around the world lost 64 million jobs last year, a 5% loss, while men’s job losses amounted to 3.9%.

“Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is having a harsher impact on women, who are disproportionately represented in sectors offering low wages, few benefits and the least secure jobs,” says Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

Per Oxfam, the amount that women lost exceeds the $700 billion Amazon gained in market capitalization, and the almost $721.5 billion the U.S. government spent on defense.

This doesn’t account for informal employment that many women participate in globally, such as garment workers and market vendors. Oxfam reports that women also make up roughly 70% of the world’s health and social care workforce—essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk for contracting the virus.

While women have experienced income loss at a disproportionate rate, employers nationally and locally are also experiencing a workforce deficit. Help wanted signs appear on many windows and hiring bonuses are being created with an urgency to fill vacant positions while demand remains high. While this mounting pressure looms, employers are reminded that 51% of the population of Indiana is female. 75% of working age women were in the workforce in Allen County prior to the pandemic. In order to speed up a recovery, employers will need to look at ways that they can create more inclusive and flexible environments and policies to support a large sector of the workforce and regain lost revenue.

According to a new global survey conducted by Deloitte, women indicate they are more stressed and discouraged since the pandemic began, now taking on an increasing amount of responsibility at home and in their careers. While many employers have policies and procedures for reporting bias and discrimination, few employers have cultivated cultures of trust where women feel comfortable voicing concerns without fearing negative career impacts.

More than half of women surveyed (51%) are less optimistic about their careers than they were before the pandemic, according to the Deloitte survey. Overall, 57% of women—60% of women of color—plan to leave their workplaces in the next two years or less, while 21% say they will leave sooner than that—all citing lack of work-life balance. This will not only exacerbate current hiring issues, but also significantly impact businesses large and small.

Along with widespread policy changes like flexible work environments, paid leave for hourly employees and childcare accommodations, employers can begin to foster cultures of trust and accommodation to attract and retain valuable employees in the following ways.

  1. Have hard conversations.
    In order to get the results you desire as an employer, you must be willing to have direct and difficult conversations with employees who appear to be or have voiced that they are struggling. If done in an empathetic way, these employees will feel understood and seen as the company works to ensure it retains its talent.
  2. Stop promoting the ‘best’ salesperson, widget-maker, etc. to management.
    Bad managers cost companies billions of dollars each year, and according to Gallup, they fail to choose the right managers 82% of the time. Finding the right managers who motivate others, create a culture of accountability and build relationships will quickly foster a culture of trust.
  3. Listen, collaborate, act.
    When is the last time that your company or organization genuinely asked employees, at every level, what would help them succeed in their roles? Were those employees given the opportunity to co-create solutions? According to Carsten Tams for Forbes, “… ideation of change ideas is the reserved prerogative of top management and their consultants. Employees’ involvement is largely confined to unquestioning implementation. This top-heavy approach typically results in lackluster, impoverished change process, focused narrowly on only one or two big-ticket items. Most employees have valuable insights into how the organization can be improved. And they are ready to champion these ideas.”
  4. Build in accountability.
    Regular performance reviews with honest feedback are a great way to foster trusting relationships. Start with informal conversations around performance throughout the year in fun and different locations to help build rapport. Then, during the end-of-year performance review, nothing should be a surprise. Employees feel valued to co-create goals and know they are held accountable toward those goals.
  5. Be open to change.
    ‘That’s how it’s always been done’ doesn’t mean that’s how it should stay. Carve out time to look at policies and procedures that have not been examined recently. Is remote work possible? Are time-share arrangements a possibility for certain positions? Identifying your company’s attraction and retention pain points will help you recognize where change may be needed.

As businesses and organizations begin to shift to foster more inclusive and flexible workplaces in Northeast Indiana, so does the paradigm in our community’s women reaching their full economic potential.

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