Women feel less supported by bosses amid pandemic

05 August 2020 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read

According to respondents of a recent survey, women feel less able to rely on their employers for help in times of crisis. When asked their thoughts on how senior leaders at a company were performing, a seven-point gap emerged between men and women as to how well they were supported.

Economic crises quantifiably make it more difficult for employees to achieve workplace equality. Illustrating this, a recent US study by academics at different universities found that biases regarding diversity and inclusion tend to re-emerge strongly during a depression, with women in particular finding it very hard to join the very top bodies in firms when companies are struggling.

As reported by the BBC, analysing 50,000 board elections in 1,100 publicly listed companies between 2003 and 2015 showed that shareholders were normally happy to support female directors when everything was going well. However, at the first sign of the company getting into trouble, or if there was a crisis, they were much more likely to withdraw their support for female candidates.

Along with this, the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic havoc it has wrought are also having an impact on women in lower income brackets. The economic crisis has seen more women’s jobs end than men’s, as the threat of contagion in public places has hit economic sectors where women are overrepresented in the workforce, like accommodation, food, retail and manufacturing. Demonstrating what this means for the female workforce, recent statistics showed that between May 2019 and May this year, the percentage of women in Scotland who were unemployment leaped from 2.9% to 4.4% per cent – with almost half of the increase coming between March and May of 2020.

Women feel less supported by bosses amid pandemic

Bearing these figures in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that new research from Mercer has found women are less trusting of bosses to support them amid the coronavirus outbreak. To learn more about the work-related challenges and stressors that women and men have been experiencing during the pandemic, Mercer recently collaborated with Crunchr in order to survey 485 employees, including 197 men and 288 women, working in a cross-section of organisations and industries around the world.

Using a set of 14 questions, the survey asked employees to evaluate various aspects of their work experience during the pandemic. Across most items, results for male and female respondents were similar. However, on three items, women were notably less positive than men were.

While in both men and women, a majority of respondents said their manager was doing the right thing to support them during the outbreak, there was a seven-point gap between men and women on the matter. Similarly, only 72% of women said senior leaders were doing a good job to keep staff informed about the state of their business in the pandemic, compared to 78% of men. Finally, 5% fewer women said they thought senior leaders were doing a good job of listening to employee concerns during the crisis – though both demographics were notably less upbeat on this front than with other questions.

These results suggest that ultimately women feel less supported by management and leadership. It also implies that in some organisations, female employees may feel overlooked, unheard and uninvolved. According to Mercer, one female respondent summed this up by suggesting, “I don’t think the lines of communication have been good. It would be better to know about things that are in process to see if workers feel they are acceptable.”

With regards to how companies could move to better support women in their workplace, authors  Patrick Hyland and Varavit Chinnapong wrote, “Many employees, particularly women and parents, are struggling to balance their work and personal responsibilities these days. Finding ways to support your workforce during this uniquely trying time can help your employees stay healthy and effective. In our survey, flexible hours, recalibrated performance goals, mental health care services, clear communication and empathetic leadership were identified as important sources of support.”