This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) takes on added significance in light of the world around us. The last 12 months have been marked by individuals and communities fighting for the recognition of equality and access to equal opportunity in their personal and professional lives. This year’s IWD theme, #ChooseToChallenge, is a rally call for us all to show our support in fighting for equality.
Today, I raise my hand because I choose to champion equal opportunity and advocate for an inclusive global workforce that gives every individual the opportunity to develop into impactful leaders and thrive in their careers.
COVID-19 has intensified challenges for women
The global pandemic has upended the lives of millions of people around the world. Working parents have always had to wear multiple hats, but the pandemic has made multitasking even more challenging as they care for their children, juggle work responsibilities, and even step in to fill teaching roles. In addition, working parents are navigating new remote work environments that increasingly blur the boundaries between work and home life, often resulting in longer working hours and more stress.
Research by Lean In and McKinsey highlights that the 2020 pandemic has been extremely difficult for women in particular. Faced with a larger portion of child care responsibilities and household duties, many women are experiencing stress and burnout-level fatigue at alarming rates. Senior women leaders have been especially impacted, leaving them feeling constantly exhausted, with 47% describing the need to be “always on.” Due to this, one in four women will even consider downshifting their careers or stepping away from the workforce entirely¹.
These challenges demand that we discuss workplace inclusivity.
Achieving and promoting an inclusive workplace
Workplace trends are often set by the biggest companies, particularly those located in the Silicon Valley. However, most companies are much smaller, with limited resources. As such, they need to be creative about how to support their employees — be it maternity leave, vacation policies, remote working, or diversity and inclusion initiatives. A no-cost, but meaningful, approach any organization can adopt is leading with compassion, flexibility, and empathy. Simple steps such as offering staggered work schedules, temporary part-time arrangements, and mental health support have a powerful impact on employees’ lives and do not require multi-million dollar budgets to succeed.
I’ve been humbled by the level of compassion and creativity exhibited by Druva during the pandemic. We rolled out additional mental health support, increased the frequency of meetings with our internal women’s affinity group, and proposed creative individualized solutions to employees facing challenging situations, particularly with respect to child or elder care. These efforts remind me how much meaning and purpose can be found in small acts of kindness.
Research organizations should continue to study and publish data regarding these issues and let companies adopt policies that work for their workforce. Large companies from Apple to Walmart have recently begun to articulate a corporate purpose, which includes the implementation of social policies promoting gender equality and inclusion. As these companies lead this effort organically, others will follow.
Ultimately, while the past year has thrown us many curveballs, it has reinforced the importance of coming together to support one another in our personal and professional lives. Let this International Women’s Day be the moment we all #ChooseToChallenge and lead the fight for equal opportunity.
¹ LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, “Women in the Workplace,” 2020.