Equal Pay Day marks how far into the year women typically have to work in order to make as much as men the year before.
“Women, on average, still spend far more time than men every day on household chores and caring for family members, as well as on the largely invisible planning, logistics, organizing, and mental and emotional labor required to run a house and keep families together,” says Haley Swenson, Deputy Director of the Better Life Lab at New America, an organization that provides tools, research, and resources aimed at improving the work-family balance.
In 2021, Equal Pay Day falls on March 24 — and comes at a time when one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely because of continuing workplace imbalances and the added pressures brought about by COVID-19, according to McKinsey’s 2020 “Women in the Workplace Study.”
The good news is there are ways that employers can make a difference. “Employers can support professional development and the advancement of women … by first acknowledging the work-life balance burdens placed on them and then providing appropriate benefits and support,” says Katie Sexton, a Staff Attorney at Equal Rights Advocates, which campaigns for gender equity in the workplace. Read on to learn how.
Provide generous paid leave.
When stretched at both ends, it’s hard for women to meet the demands of their job and their family. Their own needs often get classified as the last priority while they juggle a constellation of other obligations.
One way employers can help? Providing paid time off. Nearly half (49 percent) of women say that more access to paid vacation or other paid time off would give them the ability to rest and recover so that they could better manage their work and family responsibilities, according to the Better Life Lab.
“Policies should be over-inclusive and expansive, leaving the employee to decide to take less leave rather than being in the position of having to ask for more [time off] or ask for clarity,” Sexton notes. “By and large, policies that do not include defined vacation times, for example, result in employees taking less vacation.”
Offer flexible work arrangements.
After paid vacation and family or personal leave, 43 percent of women want more control over their schedules through more predictable hours or more flexible work terms, according to research from the Better Life Lab. Whether women are homeschooling children or caring for aging parents, having more control over where and when they work can be a big help by allowing them to schedule around their other responsibilities and ease any work-family conflicts. This could mean logging in remotely a few days a week, ending the work day at a certain hour for school pick-ups, or any other flexible arrangements that could accommodate engagements outside of work.
Facilitate access to childcare.
“As the economy reopens and it is once again safe for childcare facilities to open, affordable, accessible, and high-quality childcare will be key to helping working parents return to or remain in the workforce,” says Sexton.
Even before the pandemic, she notes, lack of childcare was linked to women exiting the workforce or cutting working hours to fill the gaps of their family’s needs. Beyond the dependent care flexible spending accounts, employers can help out with childcare subsidies, referral services, backup childcare for emergencies, and tutoring assistance.
Make work-life policies gender-neutral.
Research has shown that attitudes toward fatherhood have changed considerably over the past 50 years. Whereas once the cultural norm was for fathers to focus on providing for their families financially, these days more emphasis is being put on hands-on caregiving.
However, financial concerns and inadequate workplace and manager support often prevent fathers from taking time off to take on more family duties. Swenson recommends that companies “provide gender-neutral family-supportive policies, including paid leave, to all employees — part-time and full-time — and create work cultures that support men using those policies.” By making work-life benefits available to both men and women, companies can normalize shared caregiving norms, further lessening the burden on women.
Show support for the broader cause.
The key components of supporting women in the workplace won’t amount to much if only a handful of people are beneficiaries. “These changes will need to take place at the federal, state, and employer levels to make a real and lasting impact,” says Sexton.
So how can employers get fully on board? Besides implementing female-friendly policies at their own company, they can track and sign onto proposed bills in their state and partner and support with workplace rights organizations that are doing advocacy and policy work on the ground. A good place to start is the Equal Rights Advocates’ Action Center, which provides resources and tools around gender equity.