By Tiffany O’Donnell, CEO, Women Lead Change

In preparing for a presentation about new statistics on the women’s recession, I gathered three women vice presidents of a national company for whom I was presenting. Following the presentation, they were to provide their own personal perspectives on balancing work through a global pandemic.

As I began to ask the first woman how she was navigating these times, she sat silent. I asked again. It was after that second ask that the first tears began to fall. She gathered herself in front of me, a stranger, and proceeded to tell me how challenging the last few months had been at work and at home.

I then asked the second woman how she was navigating this time. She is also a vice president and the company’s highest sales producer. Once again, silence, followed by tears.

I wish I could tell you the story was different for panelist number three. It wasn’t. All three had clearly reached their breaking point in front of me, a complete stranger, who merely asked, “How are you doing?”

I share this story because these are strong women. You know and maybe even live with someone like them. All were open and honest enough to say that the challenges of this pandemic had prompted them to consider quitting. That’s right. QUITTING. The highest sales performer at the company considered walking away because of the demands of work and life in a time of COVID-19. It was clear from this interaction that there are costs to working these days  financial, physical and most certainly mental.

No longer anecdotal, hard evidence from firms like McKinsey & Co., and now Women Lead Change, have data to back up the looming crisis.

Each year, we survey members of the EPIC Corporate Challenge. In 2020, we added the opportunity for COVID-related feedback. This data, however, is focused on self-reporting from an organizational perspective. We thought it was important that we dig deeper and ask for the perspective of our individual contributors. So we also commissioned a research study, in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago, to be able to take a look at the employee’s view versus the employer’s view.

The goal of the study: to help organizations, policymakers and communities identify effective ways to support professional women. To unlock the needs of women like those mentioned above who can be struggling in silence.

Here are some key findings from this research.

  • Professional women’s mental health is an urgent issue in the current pandemic.
  • 80.5% of our survey respondents reported at least some symptoms of depression over the last month. Among them, more than 25% reported depressive symptoms more than half the days (over the last month).
  • Women are being pushed to the brink when trying to shoulder work and family responsibilities.
  • Single women and those who are either divorced or separated reported higher levels of job insecurity than married women. These women are in charge of the second and third shifts at home with less support systems.
  • Multiple sources of help are needed to alleviate women’s burden.
  • Women report greater levels of work changes that they made themselves (e.g., forgo work assignments; sacrifice personal time to catch up on work) to attend to family.

To sum things up? The largest contributing factor to quitting work, symptoms of depression, and physical symptoms of depression are the sacrifices being made by women during the pandemic.

What does this all mean for employers? It’s time to innovate. It’s time to ask more questions. It’s time to make adjustments in order to retain your female workforce. Some of the best companies have already taken these steps and some are in place for the long term. EPIC member companies participating in the 2020 survey reported efforts to recruit and retain a female workforce as: flexible work schedules, work from home, increased PTO, modified job responsibilities, subsidized educational support, and child care.

The workplace of the future is now, and your workforce is here.

Categories: Guest Opinion