A recent survey commissioned by global nonprofit Catalyst, which works to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion, reveals that 7 in 10 working people believe workplaces will accelerate gender equity in the wake of COVID-19. Half of respondents expect better economic prospects in the future. Furthermore, 8 in 10 business leaders think the disruption caused by COVID-19 presents an opportunity to create a more inclusive workplace for people of color.

While survey respondents expressed optimism for the future, fewer than half (41%) of working people think their company is fully committed to—and already taking steps to create—an inclusive workplace in which employees can thrive during this time of remote working, physical building closures, and other changes as a result of the pandemic.

“With the disruption of COVID-19, we see a clear tension between optimism for a more inclusive and equitable workplace and skepticism that companies and business leaders will actually take the necessary steps to address disparities at the organizational level,” said Lorraine Hariton, president & CEO of Catalyst.

Conducted between June 1 and 5, 2020, Catalyst’s survey of 1,100 US business leaders and employees examines perceptions of gender equity initiatives tied to pandemic-driven workplace conditions (e.g., working remotely, combining parenting and homeschooling, and elevated levels of stress).

THE OPTIMISM DIVIDE 

Business leaders are more likely than employees to believe that COVID-19 provides companies with an opportunity to create more inclusive workplaces for women (75% vs. 60%). Business leaders are also more likely to believe that working remotely has facilitated a more inclusive environment (56% vs. 28%). There is also a division in perception of company action—business leaders (56%) are more likely to believe that their company is taking steps to enhance gender equity during this pandemic, as compared with employees (34%).

“To narrow the optimism divide between business leaders and employees, there needs to be clear communication on company goals, actions, and commitments from all levels, but especially from those in leadership positions,” said Hariton. “This communication and intentional action are essential to inclusive leadership and are critical to advancing gender and racial equity in the workplace.”

Women and men at senior leadership levels are themselves divided, as are employees and business leaders:

• More women business leaders than men business leaders believe that for senior leaders, taking action on gender equity is more important now than it had been before the emergence of the coronavirus (80% vs. 66%).
• At the same time, more women business leaders than men business leaders trust their company to create a more inclusive work environment in the future (80% vs. 75%).
• More employees than business leaders fear that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their prospects for a promotion (60% vs. 28%).

DESIRE FOR GREATER FLEXIBILITY AND WORK-LIFE BALANCE 

A majority of respondents—62% of those surveyed—think the new working environment will impact their future by providing a better work-life balance. Additionally, 68% of those surveyed think they have better control over their work schedule.

Flexible working, and a focus on inclusion in hiring and promotions, are the top ways people believe companies will enhance gender equity during this pandemic. Employees want to know their company is taking these steps to enhance gender equity post-COVID-19; however, at this moment in time, only 34% believe their company will take these steps.

“We have long known that flexible work environments lead to greater gender equity in the workplace. The ability to give workers the flexible working opportunities that they are looking for is no longer an option; it’s an imperative for companies that want to attract and retain top talent,” said Hariton.

THE SHIFTING DYNAMICS OF WORK DURING COVID-19 

The research also looked at many of the different dynamics and ways of working during COVID-19:

Domestic gender roles at home (This gender difference reported is based on men and women living with an opposite-sex partner. Among same-sex couples, 3 in 10 working men say they are doing more household chores since the work-from-home orders were put in place. Among women in same-sex partnerships, the balance is more equal, with 1 in 4 working women doing more at home, yet 1 in 4 saying their female partner is doing more):

• 1 in 3 men claims to have taken on more of the household chores, suggesting a leveling of roles and responsibilities, but only 13% of women say that their male partner has taken more of the household chores.
• Women are twice as likely as men to be primarily responsible for homeschooling their children.

VIRTUAL MEETINGS:

• 45% of women business leaders say it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings. (42% of men business leaders agree with this observation.)
• 1 in 5 women has recently felt ignored and overlooked by coworkers during video calls, and 1 in 5 working people have witnessed more discrimination at work since the outbreak of Covid-19.

The survey was conducted by Edelman Intelligence, a specialist applied research firm based in New York. The study surveyed 1,100 US adults (business leaders and employees) in full-time employment positions, and all data in this press release is representative of the US working population in terms of age, gender, region, race, and ethnicity. All field work was conducted between June 1 and 5, 2020.

Catalyst is a global nonprofit working with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst helps organizations accelerate progress for women at work with pioneering research, practical tools, and proven solutions to remove barriers and drive change. We achieve our mission by partnering with 800+ Supporter organizations to help them make positive change in their organizations. We give companies and CEOs the trusted advice and expertise they need to drive workplace talent transformations in complex, global businesses. Learn more or read the full report at catalyst.org.


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