- Women’s participation in the paid labour market took a hit with the onset of COVID-19.
- Remote work could further marginalize employees who find it difficult to advocate for themselves.
- AI can ensure that all talent decisions are equitable.
We must move fast in the transition to the future of remote work. But not too fast, otherwise our journey to gender equity – and economic recovery – could take a turn for the worse.
In the months leading up to COVID-19, women were driving a strong labour market. They held 50.04% of US jobs (excluding farm workers and the self-employed) and in a historic first, the number of highly-educated women in the workforce surpassed the number of highly-educated men – a milestone reflective of women’s overall rising educational attainment rates. With the onset of COVID-19, however, women’s participation in the paid labour market took a hit.
Will COVID-19 stall progress toward gender equity? Early data says yes.
As a result of COVID-19, the unemployment rate for women rose to 16.2% in April, compared to 13.5% for men, and women’s already disproportionate burden of the second shift became remarkably heavier. One study found that the time spent on unpaid labour during the height of the pandemic jumped to 71 hours per week for women who work full time and have both a partner and children. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that since the start of the pandemic, women’s share of new hires has dropped to 44.86%, down from its pre-COVID level of 46.94%.
For the sake of business continuity and our collective economic recovery, we better hope these data points aren’t a harbinger of the decade ahead. 2020 may have gotten off to a bumpy start, but the gains of gender equity are simply too great to walk back from. For every 10% increase in gender equity, organizations can expect to see a 1 to 2% rise in revenue. As companies embrace this new work-from-home era, one way they can ensure women aren’t left behind is by embedding gender equity into their transition to remote work.
Remote work does not guarantee gender equity – AI can
The sweeping adoption of remote work, as accelerated by coronavirus, should not be taken for granted. In the US alone, 57.7% of employees who are still employed and have not worked from home previously are now doing so. Furthermore, 65% of venture capital-backed founders say they would not return their companies or teams to the office if stay-at-home orders were lifted tomorrow.
A poorly-designed, hasty transition to remote work could jeopardize gender equity in several ways. Below are three scenarios.
First, remote work could make women more invisible. This would lead to even fewer opportunities for women’s advancement since frequent facetime begets upward mobility. Women already face promotion inequity starting on the very first rung of the corporate ladder, where they are 18% less likely to be promoted to a managerial role than men. That’s why women hold only 38% of managerial roles despite being 48% of all entry-level positions. We cannot let remote work widen this gap.
Second, working from home could skew performance evaluations if managers are not trained to value remote employees equitably. Companies that give employees the choice to work remotely could find that their good intentions backfire, as women are more likely than men to want to work from home. (This preference is especially strong in the emerging tech sector, where 76% of female tech professionals say the opportunity to work remotely is important if businesses wish to retain top talent.)
Since performance reviews impact everything from pay and compensation to promotion and potential, seemingly innocuous or invisible skews in how managers evaluate their remote teams will morph into larger structural inequities down the road. These inequities will not only derail organizational D&I efforts, they will also derail the professional ambitions of many hard-working employees.
Third, remote work could further marginalize employees who find it difficult to advocate for themselves in-person, let alone via online communication platforms. And, as it turns out, the burden of self-promotion adversely affects women more than men. In a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a group of people were given a test in which the average score for both men and women was the same. Regardless of the real score, women on average scored themselves 46% while men on average scored themselves 61%.
Companies can avoid these gender inequity pitfalls in their transitions to remote work by building the proper infrastructure to support the shift. Namely, they can use tools of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to ensure their transition to remote work is an equitable one.
How AI can ensure an equitable transition to remote work
In the same vein as the World Economic Forum’s “Hardwiring Gender Parity into the Future of Work” initiative, companies should hardwire gender equity into their transitions to remote work.
How? By using AI to detect, mitigate, and overcome bias in the employee lifecycle. As it stands, 65% of HR professionals believe that AI can improve their companies’ D&I efforts. And they’re right, it can.
That’s because AI is a key lever in achieving sustainable and holistic diversity, equity, and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. With AI, organizations can capitalize on massive amounts of data to ensure that all talent decisions – on every step of the ladder, in every office, and throughout every country – are equitable. That’s a feat that humans have yet to accomplish.
Since 2010, the market for D&I technology has grown to approximately $100 million. And while 43% of this market currently focuses on creating equitable processes around talent acquisition, the abilities of D&I technology extend to nearly all aspects of human capital management: candidate sourcing, candidate selection, performance management, leadership development, employee engagement, retention, and more.
Removing bias from talent decisions helps companies move closer to gender equity with every new hire, performance evaluation, and pay/compensation decision. No longer must companies rely on informal relationships and unconscious bias to make critical human capital decisions. With the tools of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, organizations can use objective data to do what’s in their financial best interest as well as the best interest of their employees. After all, gender equity is more than a social issue, it’s also a stunning economic opportunity.
Root gender equity into remote work and unlock massive economic gains
The “future of work” is not an academic conversation or theoretical aspiration. It’s here. It’s now. Companies that aren’t integrating tools of the Fourth Industrial Revolution into their operations risk being swept away by the fallout of COVID-19. This crisis is an opportunity to stand forward on gender equity and walk the walk in the future of work.