Maintaining ‘business as usual’ throughout a global pandemic is no easy feat. And although nothing’s quite ‘usual’ these days, IT professionals have taken on a lot of extra stress in order to help keep the fabric of our universe as intact as possible. That being said, anyone who acknowledges the toll that modern life in general and pandemic life in particular has had on IT employees must also acknowledge the disproportional effect all this has had on women.
Fact: women already do three times more unpaid care work than men. They have always taken on the brunt of unpaid childcare and homemaking work, on top of their careers. One might say that many women are work martyrs, never stopping to take a break. Covid-19 has only worsened this imbalance by adding even more responsibility to women’s plates—both at home and at work. Unsurprisingly, burnout among women in tech is rampant. Sadly, this isn’t doing much for the hard-won advances women have made in the IT world in the last decade.
According to the 2021 McKinsey report Women in the Workplace, 1 in 4 women are considering “downshifting” their careers, or even leaving their jobs altogether. Many blame the pandemic. If this pans out on a larger scale, it would set women in the workforce back by about 10 years. We’re talking fewer women leaders, and years of progress unraveled. IT managers need to understand what’s at stake and take meaningful action to ease the difficulties faced by women staff and colleagues.
A bonafide recipe for burnout
According to the available data, just 44% of women take all their vacation time compared to 48% of men. Why? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that 78% of women in tech feel they have to work harder than their male counterparts to prove themselves. They’ve identified stress, anxiety, and guilt as just a few of the reasons they aren’t taking full advantage of their well-earned PTO. Millennial women are worried that if they take time off they’ll be seen as lazy or not serious enough about their careers. They’re worried they might be denied a promotion down the line because of it. But, seriously: the notion that a solid work ethic is on par with ‘work martyrdom’ needs to be put to rest already.
According to the McKinsey report for 2020, less than 30% of companies have adjusted their performance review criteria to respond to the challenges faced by women during the pandemic. This has only accelerated burnout. This has left many women feeling like they can’t live up to pre-Covid expectations—no matter how hard they work.
The numbers don’t lie
A survey of 450 tech professionals by TrustRadius found that 57% of women are feeling burned out at work at least in part as a result of the pandemic, compared to 36% of men. This is in part because 29% of women surveyed have taken on a greater childcare burden, and 42% have taken on the majority of the housework, compared to 19% and 11% of men respectively. Yet it’s also because 43% of women report taking on added responsibilities at work, compared to 33% of men. This begs the question, when is enough finally enough?
To flesh out the greater context here, women have also been twice as likely to lose their jobs (whether temporarily or permanently) during this unforgiving time. Close to 3 million American women have left the workforce, either due to layoffs or because they felt they had no choice given the urgent need for home childcare. The government’s latest employment data shows that women’s participation in the labor force declined in January, while men’s stayed the same.
Ok, so here’s the good news: there are ways to support women in tech and make sure they get the time they need to rest, recharge, and refocus on the work at hand. After all, exhausted employees do not—I repeat, do not—get more productive by working longer hours.
It’s high time we get solutions-oriented
The tech industry as a whole is ripe for change. Companies need to take employees’ home lives into account, and assess their actual ability to take time off. Having time off on paper is one thing, but do you empower your employees to take vacations, and/or leaves of absence as needed? Or does your company culture make taking time off more stressful than its worth? In addition to time off, promoting overall balance is also key to helping employees improve work-life balance.
Consider the following ways of offering the women in your IT space more meaningful support—and more opportunities to use their time off!
Check in more regularly, whether via one-on-ones or by beginning group meetings with check-ins—or both. If an employee’s performance is dipping, or she’s less productive, this could be a sign that she needs a break. Of course employees should get a a chance to take their well-deserved PTO long before their performance starts to suffer, so don’t let that be your sole indicator!
Mandate time off
Generally speaking, employers can require the use of PTO—so use your powers for good rather than evil! In other words, while you should absolutely encourage and even mandate the us of PTO so everyone feels they can and should take it, it’s strongly recommended that you allow employees to select their own vacation periods whenever possible.
Clarify rules for requesting time off
Strong communication is always a major plus, especially when it comes to clarifying your time off policy. Make sure all employees have a copy of the employee handbook and are aware of any and all rules for requesting time off.
Prioritize mental health
Especially during busy or stressful periods, encourage employees to take a mental health day. Simply knowing that you support mental health can alleviate a lot of anxiety among staff about requesting one. You might even consider hiring mental health professionals to offer confidential sessions to anyone interested.
Make it safe to take vacation
Find ways of offering support if someone feels they’re unable to take a vacation without the office falling apart or other staff resenting them. Ensure that there is always someone trained to take over when a given employee needs a break, no matter how integral they may be.
Offer flexible work arrangements
With the global move to remote work, employees have repeatedly shown can work remotely—and efficiently too. Be flexible not only with regard to where work gets done, but when as well. For instance, since the needs of working mothers vary, be open to flexible arrangements like four day workweeks, or getting work done once the kids are in bed.
Many working mothers (and fathers) have very limited childcare options, if any. Support the parents on your team by providing quality options for safe, accessible, and affordable childcare. You can show support in many ways, including childcare referral systems, childcare subsidies, and flexible work arrangements!
Offer parental leave
Fifty-five percent of respondents to the TrustRadius survey felt that offering equal maternity and paternity leave would help to ease some of the responsibilities traditionally placed on women alone. Go one further if possible and offer lengthier pregnancy and parental leave options.
Make leaves of absence an option
Since women do far more unpaid care work at home, take measures to ensure protected long-term leave in the event that an employee has to care for relatives who are sick, elderly or disabled. In certain cases, you might also consider offering subsidies for health expenditures.
Create opportunities for professional development
Professional development may seem like a back burner topic in this PTO discussion, but knowledge-building is always valuable, and is a great way to ensure your employees feel engaged and on track to fulfill their career goals. In fact, 72% of women in tech feel that mentorship opportunities in the workplace would be of value.
Include women in decision-making
Fact: if you include women in planning and decision-making, your decisions will be more inclusive of the wellbeing of your entire team. Want a more diverse workforce overall? Start by helping women in tech surmount obstacles so they might eventually attain leadership roles.
It’s time to take a stand for women in IT, and women everywhere! Ultimately what’s required is a profound shift in the status quo paradigm—you know, the one that puts more responsibility and pressure on women, while expecting them to perform at the same level as men (or an even higher level). The bottom line here is simple: creating a more caring and inclusive workplace is good for everyone. Hell, it’s even good for business.