Workplaces must offer support

COVID-19 health disparities have been well documented, but it’s time to lift the veil on the gender disparities made worse by the pandemic. COVID-19 upended the labor market, and women bore the brunt of the economic collapse. The National Women’s Law Center reports that more than 2.3 million women left the workforce between February 2020 and February 2021, dropping women’s labor participation to its lowest rate since 1988. In comparison, 1.8 million men lost their jobs in that period. Business leaders must rethink policies to help women recover from this economic calamity.

In a gender equality series, the Brookings Institution noted that even before the pandemic shutdowns, millions of working women were already struggling. Forty-six percent of them had low-wage jobs compared to 37 percent of men. The share of Black and Latina women earning low wages was much higher than in white women. Low-wage jobs were among the first to go when businesses closed due to coronavirus mitigation efforts. For those low-wage workers who were considered essential, the school closures added the stressful decision on how to keep their kids safe while still trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

COVID-19 stressors are not not just impacting those who lost their jobs. The 2020 Women in the Workplace study produced by McKinsey and LeanIn.org found that more than one in four women, some of whom continued to work, are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. The researchers call this an emergency for corporate America which risks losing women in leadership. They say it would reverse years of progress toward gender diversity.

In fact, the Center for American Progress reports the pandemic could set back women’s progress in the workforce by 25 years. The report says the risk of mothers leaving the workplace or reducing hours to care for children amounts to more than $64 billion in lost wages and economic activity. The Center says the U.S. won’t achieve economic growth and gender equity without long-term action to shore up the child care infrastructure and establish more progressive work-family policies.

L.A. Care Health Plan, the nation’s largest publicly operated health plan in the country, recognized early in the pandemic the need to respond in a number of ways to support all employees during the unprecedented health crisis. The health plan knew it needed to offer employees flexibility when its more than 2,000 employees quickly became remote workers at the onset of the pandemic. Supervisors encouraged employees to participate in self-care and take time to focus on their mental health, and when possible, adjusted schedules for parents and caregivers who had to manage homeschooling duties, understanding the added stress that created.

The health plan has always offered free counseling to employees and members of their household, but throughout the pandemic, L.A. Care made a point of frequently reminding employees to take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

L.A. Care has a number of Employee Resource Groups (ERG), and two have provided critical support to women through the COVID-19 crisis. The Parents and Caregivers with Careers ERG works to help parents and caregivers deal with balancing work-life issues as well as address the stress of being a working parent or caregiver. This ERG became especially important during the pandemic, because for many, there has been very little space between work and family.  The Women in Leadership ERG helps women define and empower themselves through hour-long presentations on topics like resilience and self-advocacy. This ERG is not only working to keep women in the workplace, but encouraging them to strive for leadership positions.

L.A. Care has been pleased to see no loss in productivity over the past year, despite a nearly 100 percent remote workforce and flexibility, which was especially important for employees who had to care for family members recovering from COVID-19 and those who had children learning at home. The health plan believes that some of the changes implemented during the COVID-19 crisis should continue when the pandemic has ended, and employees have expressed gratitude for that flexibility. An empathetic workplace can help ensure that women can and will remain in the workplace, which, ultimately, helps us all.

Information for this article was provided by LA Care. For more information go to lacare.org.


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