Many businesses are also seeking to deploy interventions and retooled benefits, such as increased child care subsidies or special leave for parents. Caregiver resource groups allow employees to swap tips for homeschooling and provide a forum to share experiences, while remote benefits can be redesigned to incorporate services tailored to specific pandemic stressors. Employee assistance programs could include resources for virtual tutors with experience supporting neurodiverse students, says Dagit, as managing remote schooling for the estimated one in five children with learning disabilities would aid working parents.
In another initiative, some employers have ushered in Friday afternoons without meetings, says Matt Krentz, the diversity, equity, and inclusion and leadership chair at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Others have also provided staff with mental health apps like Headspace and Calm as part of their tool kit to manage working from home. Importantly, employers are focusing on results rather than face time, a culture shift that benefits women.
Fighting bias with data and AI
As employers make permanent changes to the workplace, measuring longitudinal outcomes will be paramount. Surveys should go beyond typical metrics like retention to track employee sentiment and caregiver status. “Any talent decision — reviews, promotions, layoffs if those happen — should factor in longer-term performance and future potential,” says Krentz. Employers also should monitor for biases against caregivers and track outcomes by gender.
Companies hiring workers can leverage AI that incorporates unconscious bias testing so that older women or those with résumé breaks aren’t screened out. Krentz points to the platform PredictiveHire as an example of how data can promote equity. Candidates interview via text with PredictiveHire’s automation, and this blind assessment (which uses natural language processing and machine learning) is designed to filter out bias.
Other tools like Textio help recruiters write inclusive job descriptions by monitoring tone and gender bias, while the platform Eightfold masks specific personal information so hiring managers see only skills and qualifications.
“Returnship programs” from career reentry firms like iRelaunch help mothers reenter the workforce. Its STEM Re-Entry Task Force targeting women with engineering experience was designed to boost female representation in engineering while addressing the projected shortage of technical talent. Early partners of the task force included Booz Allen Hamilton, General Motors, and Intel.
Retraining and upskilling
Given the estimated worldwide gap of 85 million skilled workers by 2030, retraining could prepare women for jobs of the future, and businesses taking the long view will reap benefits. Women can gain from efforts targeted toward fast-growing sectors like cybersecurity — projected to have 3.5 million open jobs globally this year — and educational programs could transition women from all skill levels into more durable roles in tech and other sectors. “Technology can be a great equalizer when tailored to the unique needs of a community,” says Michele Malejki, HP’s global head of social impact, who is speaking on this topic at the Female Quotient Equality Lounge on March 8, International Women’s Day. “We partner with organizations such as UN Women, the HP Foundation, and HP LIFE Centers, where women and other marginalized communities have the opportunity to reskill using modern technology.”
In the past, networking events, certifications, and credentialing classes might have limited the number of attendees, but online programs and platforms like LinkedIn Learning, the Lambda School, and General Assembly have unprecedented reach. Of course, having time to pursue education over short-term income also remains a luxury, especially for women of color, who disproportionately perform low wage work for fewer basic benefits, let alone development opportunities. These education platforms will only broaden access by remaining affordable. The pandemic has also exacerbated how the digital divide perpetuates inequality for those without internet access.