Can the New Way of Working Change the Game for Gender Equality?

By Deanna Bass and Carolyn Tastad
Aug 5, 2020 10:35 AM ET

Over the last several months, personal and professional life have become one, merged for many under a single roof. It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended every aspect of normal life – but what’s less clear is how these changes will impact the way we work – and live – in the months, years and decades to come.

It’s a subject of particular relevance to working women, who have been disproportionately affected by this crisis. This is due in part to overrepresentation in the types of jobs being eliminated or furloughed, such as service industry positions in hospitality, travel, retail and childcare. There are also fewer women in senior management positions, which are less likely to see layoffs. At the start of the pandemic, in March, 60% of jobs lost in the U.S. belonged to women. By May, the unemployment rate for women was 14.3% vs 11.9% for men. Women now make up 49% of the American workforce, after briefly outnumbering men on payrolls in late 2019.

For women who haven’t lost their jobs, work-life balance pressures are mounting. According to a recent survey conducted by Syndio, 14% of women are considering quitting their jobs due to family demands created by the COVID-19 crisis, versus 11% of men. The pressure is even higher for multicultural women: 26% of Hispanic women and 15% of Black and Asian women are considering quitting.

The immediate impact is staggering, but the long-term impact might be just as detrimental. After we’ve secured our health – and restructured our lives accordingly – organizations everywhere will need to continue to step up for their employees, many of whom will be especially vulnerable. 

“This crisis has taught us that employees – from new hires to CEOs – can successfully lead, influence and progress work virtually. That’s something we shouldn’t unlearn.”

Deanna Bass, Vice President, Global Diversity & Inclusion, P&G

Procter & Gamble (P&G) is an example of a company that has needed to flex how it works and supports employees during the pandemic. As the maker of health, hygiene and cleaning brands like Vicks, Crest, Charmin, Pampers, Always, Gillette, Mr. Clean, and Tide, we understood from the start that protecting employee wellbeing was the first and most important step in responding to the heightened demand for our products. 

At the onset of the crisis, P&G established three clear priorities: keeping employees safe, serving consumers around the world who count on P&G brands and the benefits they provide, and supporting communities, relief agencies and people who are on the front lines of the pandemic.

We’ve bolstered the robust measures already in place for workplace safety – and recognized that caring for the wellbeing of our employees also includes helping with childcare issues, sick family members, flexibility with working hours, and providing access to paid testing and sick leave, mental health resources, financial support and technologies for working remotely. 

“As companies respond with new solutions to the real-time challenges of this crisis, we must all remain steadfast in our commitments to flexibility at work, intentional career planning, equal pay, and paid parental leave, which are proven accelerators of gender equality. It’s up to us to ensure that progress for equality steps forward – not backwards – as we learn from this crisis.”

Carolyn Tastad, Group President, North America, P&G

As P&G and others have adjusted employee benefits and practices to respond to specific needs during this crisis – we now have the opportunity to evaluate what we can learn from how work has changed – and be deliberate about not going backward in the months ahead.

For example, as businesses and organizations everywhere have complied with stay at home orders, we’ve learned that employees – from new hires to CEOs – can successfully lead, influence and progress work virtually. We’ve embraced new collaboration tools and digital platforms. We’ve enjoyed virtual team meetings where children, pets and partners make cameo appearances. We’ve proven that flexible work works – and that’s something we shouldn’t unlearn.

This new way of working can be a breakthrough for women – and for men.  This crisis has shown us that many men are doing much more at home, as working parents tag-team the daily challenges of remote learning and other childcare and household responsibilities. Making flexible work the standard will allow this to continue once offices reopen, ensuring that men and women can continue to progress their careers with greater flexibility in how and where they work.  Flexible work is also a recruiting win – with the incoming generation of employees who expect to manage their professional and personal lives in a seamless and integrated manner.

At the same time, we have to stay mindful of the complications of working remotely, where the demands of office and home can converge and compound – especially for women. An internal P&G survey confirmed that women are more concerned about the impact of caretaking on their work than men. When asked about the degree of impact caretaking has on their work, 54% of women said they were substantially impacted versus 35% of men. We’ve also seen that stay at home orders have amplified the need for mental health support and protection for domestic violence.

As companies respond with new solutions to the real-time challenges of this crisis, we must all remain steadfast in our commitments to flexible work, intentional career planning, equal pay, and paid parental leave, which are proven accelerators of gender equality. At P&G, we’re continuing to make progress on our plans to reach 50-50 women and men at every level, and to achieve equitable advancement of multicultural women at every level in the US. We will continue to use our voice in advertising and media to advance equality. And we’ll continue to partner with organizations that help remove barriers to education for girls and economic opportunities for women.

Deanna Bass
Deanna Bass is the Vice President of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Procter & Gamble. She is a speaker, writer, advocate and diversity champion with over 25 years of HR experience. She is a chief architect of P&G’s Global Gender Equality strategy and co-creator of the “Women at Work: Myth vs Reality” campaign which launched in Davos in 2018. Deanna sponsored a multi-year partnership with Catalyst, Inc bringing their Men Advocating Real Change initiative into the portfolio of P&G’s leadership development curriculum. She also authored P&G’s Equality Based Policy initiative which focused on global paid parental leave, pay equality, expanded flexibility, and disability inclusion.

Carolyn Tastad
Carolyn leads P&G’s North America business and operations, which includes the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. North America is P&G’s largest and most profitable region, accounting for nearly 45% of the company’s net sales. Carolyn also leads P&G’s Sales function, guiding selling strategy and capability across all categories and regions. As executive sponsor for P&G’s Gender Equality program, Carolyn actively leads efforts inside and outside P&G to tackle bias and build a world with equal voice and equal representation for all individuals.