Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey was done in a major international media organization. Men and women in middle management were asked the open-ended question “How are things for women at [organization]? The results were striking:

MEN

  • Desire is there for changes, with varying levels of commitment.
  • Legitimate interest and desire to have the company look like the population.
  • Thinking carefully, taking Gender Equality seriously.
  • This is the good news…that the men are open to change for the right reasons
  • Yet their perspective/ experience of the workplace culture says:
  • Good, diverse workplace (could always be better)
  • Very equal & open – merit-based.
  • Macho culture was there but has faded.

WOMEN

  • Executives don’t walk the talk
  • Intentions are good, but they don’t get it.
  • There’s a boy’s club feel. There is a lack of advocacy for women, and they are excluded.
  • Women feel they are not able to move up to senior-most levels.
  • When a male manager does advocate for a woman, it’s his way or the highway.
  • Women are set up to fail – they are given difficult assignments with insufficient support, and if it doesn’t work, they’re gone. Men in the same situation get support and resources.
  • Equality is numbers-driven – not focused on the people.
  • Women are seen to need training to move up where men will be given support and resources.
  • Low EQ, empathy; don’t value/recruit for “soft skills”

When the CEO of the company saw these results, his reaction was “it’s like they work in different companies!” When the respondents saw the results, the men were shocked at how out of touch they were with the women’s experience of working there. This experience has since been replicated in other organizations and industries.

The results show that while women have made great strides, entrenched male attitudes such as “Women are seen to need training to move up where men will be given support and resources” continue to operate at the cultural level to hold women back.

Many of the societal changes that have taken place since the pandemic have adversely affected women at work. For instance, at the peak of the crisis in 2020, a tremendous number of men and women lost their jobs, but women lost one million more jobs than men did.

As the crisis continued, and schools and daycare centers remained closed, many working mothers were still the primary caretakers for their children, even with two parents working from home. Juggling all of these responsibilities at once became impossible for many, and in September 2020, more than 865,000 women quit the workforce in what was referred to as a “shecession.”

Even though job growth has rebounded since the global health crisis, men have regained three times the number of jobs that women lost. And while many women have regained jobs, some are in lower-paying, less stable roles, such as retail and restaurant positions.

The events of the last two years shed light on the inequalities women face and thrust the social imbalance to the forefront of conversation. With work environments shifting between remote, in-office and hybrid setups, leaders must create opportunities for women to return to, stay in and fully contribute to the workforce.

It’s not just the makeup of the workforce that’s now different — employee expectations have irreversibly changed as well. With tightened labor and skills markets, employees have gained the advantage. Organizations are largely responding with an emphasis on creating a positive employee experience.

Increasingly, employees believe their employers should do more than provide a paycheck; they should positively impact the world. For that reason, job candidates and employees want to work for organizations that have similar values. In that vein, employees expect their businesses to be socially responsible in terms of both words and actions.

Organizations must now understand the totality of complexities inside and outside the office that impact employees. Through that perspective, businesses can break down the “two companies” barrier.

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