Closing The Gap

1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the coronavirus

Stressed and frustrated businesswoman working on laptop till late at work
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The coronavirus crisis is continuing to impact the way we all live and work, but new data from Lean In and McKinsey & Company shows that women are being disproportionately affected by today's pandemic. 

In its newly released "Women in the Workplace" report, Lean In and McKinsey & Company found that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the impact of Covid-19. 

"This is the most alarming report we've ever seen," Facebook's chief operating officer and Lean In founder Sheryl Sandberg tells CNBC Make It. "I think what's happening is this report confirms what people have suspected, but we haven't really had the data, which is that the coronavirus is hitting women incredibly hard and really risks undoing the progress we've made for women in the workforce."

Covid-19 could erase years of progress for women: Women in the Workplace report
Covid-19 could erase years of progress for women: Women in the Workplace report

From the beginning of 2015 to the beginning of 2020, the share of women in senior vice president roles grew from 23% to 28%, with the overall share of women in the C-suite growing from 17% to 21% over that same time period. Though this growth is promising, Sandberg emphasizes that the impact of the pandemic is proving to be a real threat to this progress. For the first time in the six years the report has been done, Lean In and McKinsey and Company researchers are seeing evidence of women leaving the workforce at higher rates than men. In the previous six years of this study, data has shown women and men leaving their companies at similar rates. 

This increase in the number of women who are leaving or thinking about leaving the workforce is largely due to the ongoing caregiving crisis women face, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic with many schools and day care centers remaining closed. Mothers are three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for a majority of housework and childcare during Covid-19, according to Lean In and McKinsey & Company. Mothers are also twice as likely as fathers to worry that their work performance is being judged negatively because of their caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic. As a result, the report says many senior-level women, who are more likely than women at other levels in corporate America to be mothers, are feeling burned out from the overwhelming demands at work and at home. 

Even before the pandemic, Sandberg says, "mothers were already working a double shift," finishing the work day and then coming home to do more housework and child care. "Now with coronavirus, what you have is a double double shift," she explains. "You know, mothers are spending 20 more hours a week on housework and child care during coronavirus than fathers. Twenty more hours a week is half of a full-time job."

And Sandberg adds that the idea that women feel like they are being judged negatively for tending to their caregiving responsibilities goes back to "decades before when you didn't talk about your kids at work because someone would think you weren't dedicated."

"I think we're getting back there and that is super alarming," she says, while adding that this is especially alarming when you consider the fact that women are typically held to a higher performance standard than men and are typically "promoted based on proving what they've already proven and men get promoted based on potential."

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Despite the gains that have been made in corporate female leadership over the past few years, data shows that women are still being held back by the "broken rung," which is a woman's first promotion to manager. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women are promoted at the same rate, according to Lean In and McKinsey & Company data. For Latina and Black women, this disparity is even larger with just 58 Black women and 71 Latinas being promoted to manager for every 100 men. 

In addition to Latina and Black women facing a larger disparity when it comes to promotions, the Women in the Workplace report also found that Black women are being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus and the racial violence of this year.

"All the gender-related biases and all the race-related biases mean that Black women are dealing with all of these challenges plus the emotional tolls of the pandemic on the Black community," says Sandberg. "And, Black women are not getting close to the support that even White women are getting [in the workplace] and White women are not getting close to the support that men are getting."

Overall, Black women are less likely than other women to report that their manager has inquired about their work load or taken steps to ensure that their work-life needs are met. Additionally, only about a third of Black women say they feel like their manager has fostered an inclusive work culture and fewer than 1 in 3 say that their manager has checked in on them in light of the recent acts of racial violence. 

"We have to address explicit racism. We have to address explicit sexism. And then, we have to make sure that we are providing the mentorship, the sponsorship and the promotion opportunities," says Sandberg, while pointing to early Lean In data that shows just 26% of Black women feel like they've had equal access to sponsorship and 59% say they've never had an informal interaction with a leader at their company. That's compared to 32% of White women saying they've had equal access to sponsorship and less than half saying they've never had an informal interaction with a senior leader. 

To better support all women in the workplace, including women of color, Sandberg says company leaders need to not only do a better job at promoting, mentoring and sponsoring women, but they also need to do a better job at understanding the pressures women are facing during this unique time. 

"We have to recognize that what was possible when your kids were going to school outside the home is not possible when your kids are in school in the home," she says. "We think companies should re-set goals. We think companies should extend deadlines and we think companies should reflect this in their performance."

At Facebook, she adds, "we canceled our performance cycle for the first half of the year" and paid everyone "100% of their bonus so that people would know that we meant it when we said, 'Take care of yourself.'"

While different companies have different systems, Sandberg says it's imperative for leaders to evolve those systems so that employees know you "appreciate and respect the situation [they] are in."

"We can make work work for women and men," she says. "We can make work work for parents if we are flexible and if we give people the support they need. This is a moment where rather than move backwards we can move forward."

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