Pledges, playbooks and patience
From its inception, the Columbus Women’s Commission has made gender and racial equity in the workplace a key priority in advancing the economic well-being of women. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic made the commission more aware than ever of the disparities in our community and their significant impact on women.
Twenty seven percent of parents nationwide are considering quitting their jobs in response to COVID-19. Women are more likely to be essential workers, including child care, and are overrepresented in the industries most at risk of losing jobs as a result of the pandemic, including restaurants, retail and hotels. Even before, women comprised nearly two-thirds of low-wage workers in jobs less likely to offer supports such as paid leave, health insurance or childcare.
One in three households has a child at home and many women may be forced out of the workplace as they juggle childcare and work. Women say they are twice as likely as their male counterparts to leave work this year. Taking just one year off work impacts women’s future earnings; those who took one year off between 2001 and 2015 had annual earnings 39 percent lower than those who worked all 15 years.
In 2017, the commission launched the Columbus Commitment, a voluntary employer-led initiative to close the gender and race-based pay gap in Columbus. Its work supports employers who have signed the pledge to close the gender and racial wage gap and address workplace policies that limit economic opportunity for women. In Columbus, more than 270 employers have committed to building gender equitable-workplaces.
In July 2020, the Columbus Women’s Commission facilitated conversations to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on women in the workplace and learned there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Following the release of the summary, the commission realized that employers that made this commitment wanted ideas and opportunities for information sharing.
The commission is committed to helping women, families and caregivers accommodate these challenging times. In partnership with Accenture, it has compiled a Back to School Playbook to provide potential workplace policies, programs and solutions to support working families. It includes research and best practices from Columbus Commitment adopters and demonstrates ways the community is rising to the challenges COVID-19 has presented.
The hope is to inform and inspire flexible, innovative workplace policies by encouraging employers to collaborate with families so parents can fulfill both their parenting and work commitments.
During the information-gathering phase, the most resounding feedback from women was that they need flexibility from their employer. Employees are facing more challenges than ever before, and a cookie-cutter approach simply will not work.
I encourage all business leaders to review the Columbus Commitment pledge and take action. Read the Back to School Playbook and explore new approaches to support your employees. And most of all, show patience and grace. Our current situation is not permanent and we will come out of this even stronger but, even more important, as a more equitable and just community.
Shannon Ginther is Chair of the Columbus Women’s Commission