Resurgent Pandemic Threatens Diversity Gains

The slow but steady progress to achieve gender equality in business has come under serious threat from the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest annual survey of Women in the Workplace from McKinsey finds as many as two million women are considering leaving the workforce due to pressures in remote working arising from the pandemic.

The issue was a discussion point last week for 900+ people attending a global webinar co-sponsored by Cornerstone and the Alumni Association of P&G. Cornerstone Chairman Simon Wan and global coaching chair Laurie O’Donnell joined three senior members of the alumni in discussing the Future of Talent.

”Women are always asking for flexibility to enable their careers and right now you would think they are thriving,” said P&G alumna Graciela Monteaugudo, an independent Board Director. “But not if there are children. One in four mothers is thinking of leaving. They are overwhelmed.”

Ironically, equality at work and equality at home are two different issues. Caretaking at home creates additional demands that usually are not being shouldered equally.

“Women are at a huge disadvantage working at home, especially if they have children,” says Laurie O’Donnell. “Kids bursting in on a zoom conference are cute the first time but not when you get to Month Three. There is phenomenal stress.”

Details of the Women in the Workplace report show the heaviest impact falling on senior level women who top the charts at over 50% reporting burn-out. With current estimates of 25-30% of the workforce working remotely by the end of 2021, the challenges for women working at home are a serious impediment to diversity.

The financial consequences could be significant. Research shows that company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well represented at the top.

Panelists at the webinar placed responsibility squarely on the leadership of an organization to bring about improvement.

“A lot more communications now has to be done directly at the top level,” says Chairman Wan. “In order to attract and retain top talent it is very important to have a clear purpose of the company.

“And that needs to come from the top. It becomes a culture of the company and the leader has to be visible when you talk about the purpose and culture of the company.”

A new requirement of leadership has devolved upon managers at a lower level, resulting in what coaching chair O’Donnell describes as a democratization of coaching.

“Executive coaching originally was prescriptive and basically for the C-suite but that’s changing,” she says. “The people at the mid-level are on catch-up and it’s a steep learning curve. It’s a demand of humanity, a demand of empathy and understanding to manage all these people working remotely at home.”

The video recording of the Future of Talent webinar can be viewed here.

The P&G Alumni Network is a non-profit organization comprised of 35,000+ Procter & Gamble alumni around the globe. Its mission is to connect alumni to each other, provide shared learning and give back to local communities via philanthropic efforts.

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