The Growth of Women in the Workplace
Jenni Bedell leads Human Resources Consulting for OneDigital’s Tennessee market. Jenni and OneDigital, a strategic consulting firm, help businesses like Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee create best in class programs, so their workforce is positioned to thrive in and out of the office. Jenni is particularly passionate about empowering women in the workforce to become leaders and to advocate for themselves.
How are women doing in the workplace now, and do you think we are continuing to advance or did the pandemic set us back?
Jenni shares that labor force participation for women in their “prime working age” hit an all time high in June 2023, at 78 percent. The pandemic caused women to leave the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities caused when schools and daycares shut down. Employers have responded with more incentives to keep women working for them. In December 2022, data showed that there were 93,000 more mothers working in the United States than the year prior.
What obstacles would you say are women still facing in the workplace?
“Pay equity is certainly one of them. Also, these disproportionate caregiving responsibilities that we are seeing are affecting women in the workplace. Data shows that as men advance in their careers, they also do less household labor, which is not the case for women, even in senior leadership roles. Because of this, women are more prone to burnout.” Jenni goes onto share that 43 percent of women leaders say they are burnt out compared to 31 percent of men. Another telling fact shows for every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted, creating the “broken rung effect” in workplaces.
During the pandemic, employers were forced to hire at a higher salary than they might have originally. Someone who’s brand new could be making more than someone who has been there for a while, making substantially different salaries. How is that still taking place and where do women stand in terms of pay equity today?
“Right now, statistics show that women earn 82 cents to every dollar compared to their male counterparts in the United States, and that number is lower for women of color. In 1982, it was 65 cents for every dollar…however, if we look at our past twenty years, in 2002, it was actually 80 cents per dollar…showing that those gains have slowed, and organizations have a lot of work to do in terms of knowing their numbers from a pay equity standpoint so that they can fix that gap.”
We’ve talked about how women are not being paid enough, but what value do they bring to the workplace?
Data shows that women leaders are just as good for business holistically. The Ready-Now Leaders report from the Conference Board actually showed that organizations with at least 30 percent of women in leadership roles are 12 times more likely to be in the top 20 percent for financial performance.”
When talking to organizations, what are some creative solutions that you might suggest in terms of helping facilitate that development, promotion, or even recruiting women in general?
Jenni shares that flexibility has become not necessarily a creative solution, but a requirement for companies. And although it’s become a requirement, we do not always see organizations putting structure to that or having policies that bring it into effectiveness. “I generally want to start with data, with statistics, whenever we can tie that having women in leadership roles is statistically significant in terms of the bottom line of your business that gets people’s attention. That’s pretty poignant, and women comprise nearly half of the US labor force. And so if we’re neglecting that demographic of employees, that’s going to have results on your business from a recruitment standpoint, from a retention standpoint, in terms of not creating solutions for these issues that are specifically targeted to women in the workforce. And so always coming armed with data has been a successful way to really get the point across, I think, in those types of conversations.”
Talking about flexibility, the work-from-home environment that’s been created and now employers are struggling with the question of whether to ask employees to come back to work, or to work hybrid? How’s that affecting women in their roles?
Jenni calls this, for women in caregiving responsibilities, “a balancing act”, going onto share how this affects her in that role personally, “I had sent an email at 8:30 at night, and someone had said, ‘That’s kind of late.’ And for me, that’s prime work time. I’m in kid pickup from 2:00 to 5:00 PM and so I’m firing up my email and I’m getting a lot done at 8:30 at night. And so I think giving people ownership of their work and allowing them to own their work product and get it done in a way that works for them that’s really affecting women in a positive way. At least that’s what we’re seeing. It’s not perfect. I don’t know that there is a perfect approach to balance, but certainly is different than the times of the past where again, it was an 8 to 5, you were in the office and you’re on the clock during those hours. I think modeling what success looks like for employees, women in a flexible work environment is critical. And setting some boundaries as an organization in terms of how you are measuring that and communicating it clearly is key to success.”
Where do employers start when you’re talking to clients and they ask, what’s one action item we can take out of the gate?
“Ask your people what they want,” Jenni advises. The key to success is crafting an organizational culture that responds to those wants and needs. “When you look at things like compensation and employee benefits, it’s a huge portion of employer spend, so let’s target that in a way that we know is going to yield results for our employee population and for the types of employees we’re trying to recruit.”
Resources and Links
Jenni Bedell on Linked In
Women In The Workplace 2023 website