Story by U.S. Chamber of Commerce
With the pandemic, economic challenges, and many other global concerns impacting the workforce as we know it today, more women are feeling discouraged when it comes to their roles in the economy.
In honor of International Women’s Day, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation held its two-day 12th Annual International Women’s Day Forum. The first day featured panels of business, government, and nonprofit leaders, who discussed the many issues women around the world are facing and how we can better support them.
Women Are Disproportionately Affected by Global Challenges
Worldwide issues, like the pandemic and climate change, have disproportionately impacted women in the working world.
“As we cross a two-year mark of a global pandemic, we’re reminded that women are playing an outsized role in responding to the virus as healthcare workers and caretakers on the front lines around the world,” said Paloma Adams-Allen, deputy administrator for management and resources at United States Agency for International Development.
Additionally, Adams-Allen added, women and girls are significantly more likely to be killed by natural disasters than men and face an increased risk of exposure to violence and exploitation.
“I want to emphasize that within each of these challenges, women are not merely helpless victims … but rather catalysts for action,” she continued. “Their leadership can have transformative effects on their communities and their countries.”
Adams-Allen added that Ukrainian women have been leading the fight for their country and its democratic principles for over 30 years, and they’re now continuing that fight against Russia.
“If you’re looking for ways to generate economic growth and opportunity, invest in women’s empowerment and gender equality,” she said. “The evidence could not be more clear: when women and girls enjoy the full range of rights and freedoms they deserve, economies grow and communities flourish.”
Businesses Should Invest in Women by Helping Them Gain Necessary Skills
According to Kate Behncken, VP and global head of Microsoft Philanthropies at Microsoft, “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not,” especially for women and girls. In fact, she noted, one of the greatest challenges women face is a lack of economic opportunities.
“Too many women around the world still face structural inequalities that are creating barriers to finding quality employment, quality livelihoods, and a feeling of safety in their communities,” said Behncken.
Technology is opening up more opportunities for women and girls, empowering them to pursue economic opportunities, she added.
However, “you can’t benefit from technology if you don’t have the right skills, and so we need to create opportunities for women to gain the digital skills that they need to improve their livelihoods [and] gain employment or micro-entrepreneurship opportunities,” Behncken continued.
Employers Must Prioritize the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Their Staff
Spring Lacy, VP and head of Learning & Development and HR Talent & Capabilities at Prudential, noted that, in addition to a higher demand for flexibility for caregivers, Prudential has been seeing a higher volume of mental health requests than ever before. To address these requests, the company has launched a mental health initiative that raises mental health awareness and directs employees to available resources.
“I think there’s a lot of silver linings that we’ll see in the workplace, like greater flexibility, greater support for mental health, [and] greater support for caregivers,” Lacy said.
“We’ve seen with COVID-19 an unprecedented number of Americans experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, increased substance use, and a great deal of burnout that we’ve never seen before,” added Kana Enomoto, co-lead of McKinsey’s Center for Societal Benefit through Healthcare.
According to Enomoto, women — especially working women — are affected disproportionately by these mental health issues.
“Women [are] experiencing … less inclusive and less supportive work environments, and … those environments are causing them to want to leave the workforce,” she said. “We’re looking at one in three female managers, and about one in five female caregivers, reporting experiencing a toxic environment.”
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing that this is even more true for women of color — they are even at a higher rate feeling like their judgment is questioned or they’re being interrupted or spoken over,” Enomoto said. “All of these things combined create an environment where there’s more opportunity than ever for employers to take a role.”