Strength in diversity: For better business resilience, empower women in their careers

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By Linda Saunders, Head of Solutions Engineering, Salesforce South Africa

With pandemic recovery on the horizon, the resilient companies of the future will cultivate a workforce that is reflective of the customers and communities they serve. Creating an environment in which all employees can thrive is all the more important given the rise of new barriers to women in the workforce during the pandemic. According to McKinsey, 1 in 4 women considered downshifting or even abandoning their careers as a result of COVID-19 measures due to increased domestic responsibilities. For better workplaces and a more equitable society, business leaders have a responsibility to empower women to further their careers.

Creating a flexible working environment

It’s important that businesses learn from the pandemic to create workplaces that inspire connection, balance and equality. Recognising employees’ different roles and situations, and helped by collaborative technologies, they can explore what’s possible in terms of flexible working arrangements. Some simply don’t need to come into the office every day; others might not need to be office based at all. Businesses can also reconsider their real estate, to facilitate an environment that better suits employees’ needs and new working habits. Ultimately, the future of the office can be a greater place for human connection and a hub for collaboration.

Ensuring representation at every level

The greatest challenge to advancing gender equality in the workplace, particularly in the technology industry, is addressing women’s under-representation in emerging roles, such as cloud computing, engineering and Data and AI. With a focus on improving skills and reskilling, workforce strategies must ensure that women are better equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that the digital economy offers. To truly build a workplace that looks like society, women need to be represented at every level, particularly on corporate boards and C-Suite positions. Supporting women at all stages of their careers, investing in leadership development programs and inclusive promotions processes, will bring more women to the decision-making table and inspire more to rise from the ranks.

Providing sustainable support for parents

In an all-digital work-from-anywhere world, businesses have an even greater responsibility to create an equal and inclusive environment that translates both in-office and virtually. If flexible working arrangements are not implemented with care, these changes put at risk hard-won progress in the fight for pay and workplace equity. Creating a two-speed workforce in which women choose to work at home and men go back to the office will only put more pressure on women to take on domestic responsibilities. As we normalise women in the workforce, we must in tandem normalise the concept of men at home.

Businesses must rethink how they can provide sustainable support for working parents, many of whom lack access to affordable and universal childcare. When it comes to wanting to have children, businesses must support and not punish parents for taking time off and also support them in their journey back to work. To build more resilient organisations and effect real change post-pandemic, equality must be at the centre of everything we do. Beyond implementing internal employee policies, as leaders we must use our voice to engage with governments to advocate for sustainable support, for a more equitable workplace and society for everyone.

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