2021 has arrived in all its glory, and we are here to witness it

This continues to be one of the most challenging times many of us have faced. COVID-19 has dramatically impacted our community, our businesses and our world and shined a spotlight on disparities that have long existed across all sectors of our society, especially for women and families.

Even before the pandemic, at least half of American women were working in low-wage jobs. And while women comprise about one-half of the U.S. workforce, they account for two-thirds of job losses in sectors hurt most since the pandemic began, diminishing gains being made in the workplace and toward gender equality.

A McKinsey analysis confirms that women’s jobs and livelihoods have been the most vulnerable during the pandemic. The analysis states, “One reason for this greater effect on women is that the virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women.”

The report adds: “What is good for gender equality is good for the economy and society as well. The COVID-19 pandemic puts that truth into stark relief and raises critically important choices.”

And choose we must. It is imperative that our economic recovery strategy addresses the economic disparities that existed prior to COVID-19, including the stark “shecession” and destabilization of women and families that has occurred.

As we begin 2021, we encourage employers to keep focused on their greatest asset, your employees. Here are some tips for doing so.

  • When leading in a time of crisis, communicate frequently. Be open, transparent and vulnerable. These are critical elements of building trust within your teams as you work to reduce uncertainty in the workplace.
  • Acknowledge what the research tells us — that COVID-19, combined with political and racial tensions and other financial stressors, is leaving people more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges. It is imperative that we provide support for employee mental health that is equal to support for their physical health.
  • Review internal policies, especially related to enhancing remote working policies, building greater flexibility and discovering new ways of measuring productivity. Your policies can help ensure gains in gender parity are not lost and the economic recovery is not stifled by women’s job losses.
  • Advocate for additional support for childcare, a critical workforce support for working women. Encourage Congress to pass a comprehensive child care package as part of another COVID-19 relief bill. Perhaps more important, in the long term, help Congress understand the need to focus on policies that ensure affordable childcare is available for all families.
  • Foster senior leadership commitment as you create your re-entry plan. Create a shared understanding and engage leaders to stand with you in equitably supporting your workforce.
  • Continue to recognize the incredible balancing act our employees face every day, and the reality that a lot has changed as we come out of this crisis.

McKinsey’s Power of Parity work identifies the strong link between gender equality in society and gender equality in work — one is not achieved without the other.

While 2021 will surely be full of twists and turns, I believe in the resiliency of our people and our business community. Together, we can choose equity as the lens through which we work our way out of this crisis. We need you. Are you in?

Shannon Ginther, Chair, Columbus Women’s Commission