The COVID-19 gender gap: Addressing bias at work can help bring women back to the office


The global pandemic highlighted inequities at the workplace and the greater stresses women face. Here’s how a new tool that uses science to uncover bias at work can improve workplaces for women.

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Image: Andrii Yalanskyi, Getty Images/iStockphoto

A year into COVID-19, nearly 3 million women left their jobs, marking a big turnaround: Before 2020, women had been entering the workforce in greater numbers than men. Reports pointed to care obligations–which mostly fell on women–as the main culprit. US News, for instance, cited that 21.5% of women called that the reason for leaving work, while that cause was only cited for 5.1% of men. Another important reason women were leaving? Different treatment at the office.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

As it happens, workplaces have a long way to go in addressing the care problem. But one way they can do it is by tackling bias in the office.

Bias at work may not seem directly relevant to the care crisis faced by women, but the two are inextricably linked. The way women are treated in the office has direct implications on their ability to care for themselves and for others in their lives, as well as the expectations we have around care. By addressing bias, employers can help prevent the stresses that are disproportionately falling on women–by including childcare benefits or making sure women aren’t taking on more of the emotional labor at the office. Those stresses, which have existed for decades, have been exacerbated during COVID-19.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: How the crisis has created a new avenue for entrepreneurs (TechRepublic)

Michele Ruiz, co-founder and CEO of BiasSync, has been working to use science to help workplaces become more equitable. BiasSync is an analytical program that can detect patterns in bias.

According to Ruiz, BiasSync “acknowledges the whole person, which means that in inclusive and equity organizations, [every aspect] of the employee–their life inside and outside of work–is valued and cared for.”

Ruiz said the focus of BiasSync extends to “wherever [women] are working, in terms of mitigating bias, creating more inclusion and belonging and, certainly, equity.” The client data reveals that gender bias is the most commonly appearing bias at work, “and significantly, we see it more frequently in terms of impact,” she says.

By looking at the science behind bias, and the fact that women are most frequently the targets of gender bias, Ruiz wants to help companies figure out ways to “mitigate the impact.”

The point is to help make workplaces supportive and welcoming environments that treat everyone equally.

Women in tech have been at a greater risk of losing their jobs, since many of these are not upper-level positions–only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only 22% of people on the boards of Fortune 500 companies are women–were more likely to be cut when budgets are slashed, according to data from Pew Research.

And new evidence shows that the burdens women face are leading to greater mental health problems for women. The Mental Health Foundation, for instance, states that 58% of women have experienced a spike in anxiety since the pandemic, compared with 39% of men. This is a big obstacle in bringing women back to the office, and organizations should take note of this data when finding solutions to make the workplace more appealing.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: What employers can do to keep women on board (TechRepublic)

When it comes to addressing the ever-elusive work-life balance, Ruiz noted, employees are mostly confident that their colleagues are in support. Unfortunately, at every level up, “the confidence diminishes,” she said. Thus, employees find it twice as unlikely that management values this balance and are three times less confident that the organization holds these values.

“The data is clear that the pandemic disproportionately affected women,” Ruiz said. “We see that care-taking responsibilities have increased for women since COVID-19 and that the bias associated with these challenges has also increased.” The result, she said, is that additional support services, flexibility and benefits are critical in bringing women back to work.



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