Working women are bearing an outsized share of the economic and emotional duress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Lock downs, furloughs and layoffs have stymied the careers of many women including thousands in PR. Decades of progress for women in PR may be erased.

A survey of members of Global Women in PR found 65% believe it will take longer to close the gender pay gap, while 52% believe progression will slow for women reaching leadership positions. In addition, 45% believe women will have less job security than men in the PR industry because of the pandemic.

Women in general — especially women of color — are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, according to McKinsey & Company. With physical attendance at schools curtailed or eliminated because of Covid-19, women are 1.5 times more likely to assume greater childcare responsibilities than men. Single mothers are especially burdened.

Many women are placing their jobs on the backburner or considering leaving the workforce entirely. As many as two million women are considering leaving the workforce due to challenges created by Covid-19.

“This is an emergency for corporate America,” states the McKinsey & Company report Women in the Workforce. “Companies risk losing women in leadership—and future women leaders—and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity.”

Companies can retain female employees by building a more flexible and empathetic workplace, the authors argue. To retain the women in PR and help them meet challenges of COVID-19, companies can take these steps:

Recommendations for Women in PR

Review performance expectations. Examine productivity and performance expectations set before COVID-19 and ask if they’re still realistic. Managers may need to reset goals, narrow project scopes, or keep the same goals and extend deadlines. Consider granting additional time off. Some companies gave parents days off to prepare for the school year or close for a few Fridays each quarter.

Allow flexibility. Devise policies that establish limits on work hours, such as set hours for meetings and responding to emails. Encourage employees to set their own boundaries and take full advantage of flexible work options, and assure employee that performance will be measured based on results, not time. Leaders can set an example by working flexible hours.

Eliminate bias. Biases against women may appear in new ways. For example, when colleagues see young children playing in the background on video calls, they may assume, consciously or unconsciously, that women are less committed to their jobs. Companies need to make sure that employees are aware of such biases and subdue them.

Educate employees. Many companies offer mental-health counseling, parenting resources, health checks, and bereavement counseling. However, employees may be unaware of such company policies and programs. HR and internal communications can make a concerted effort to educate employees about the availability of counseling services.

Strengthen regular communications. Employees are more likely to feel unhappy if they’re surprised by corporate decisions that impact their lives. Regular updates on the state of the business and key decisions, including what the news means to them personally, can reduce anxiety.

One PR Agency’s Story

“Years ago, I myself was a young, female PR professional with two young kids at home,” stated Jennifer Thompson, owner of Thompson & Co. Public Relations, in O’Dwyer’s. “Before I owned my own agency, I had often been forced to choose between being successful at work or being successful at home because of the demanding, sometimes 24/7 nature of public relations.”

When she created her agency, she focused on developing a culture that encourages the advancement of female employees. Pathways to leadership positions for women are ingrained into the agency’s Tenets & Convictions that outline its values. Those values emphasize the importance of family responsibilities, professional development, and teamwork.

“If you don’t make your employees choose between work and family, they will stay with you longer and perform better, eventually rising to the top and continuing to grow the culture in that direction,” Thompson says.

Employers must find the pathways that make women successful while they also fulfill all their family obligations – even in or especially in a pandemic.

Bottom Line: Covid-19 has sidetracked the careers of many women in PR.  Women are suffering greater economic and emotional duress caused by the epidemic. By updating their policies and improving communications, employers can make life easier for all staff with family responsibilities while improving employee loyalty and productivity over the long term.

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