The pandemic revealed just how thin the line between work and life is for American parents. Without adequate childcare, women in particular were forced to make some tough decisions this year that could harm their careers for years to come, according to new data out from the New York Times.
Throughout the pandemic, women have had to step back from professional life, with many exiting the labor force altogether, as childcare – and lack thereof – became an even greater issue across the economic spectrum. As Insider’s Ben Winck reported, JP Morgan said that a full economic recovery may not be enough to fully address gender gaps that the pandemic worsened. UBS said that school closures – alongside COVID fears – are the primary drivers behind labor shortages.
In a poll of 468 working moms the NYT and Morning Consult found:
16% “did not pursue a promotion”
23% didn’t apply for any new roles
28% turned down new work responsibilities
33% clocked fewer hours due to childcare issues
20% went part-time
Moms of all economic classes worked less due to lack of childcare
Whitney Pesek, director of child care policy at the National Women’s Law Center, told Insider that the pandemic has been unique in impacting women across the board – previously, lower-income women were disproportionately impacted by childcare availability because they would generally have more unpredictable schedules or live in areas with less childcare available. While the issue of childcare was felt differently along income lines, “now we’re seeing more middle and high-income women also sounding the alarm about childcare because of the lack of slots.”
A study from the NWLC and Columbia University researchers found that making affordable childcare accessible to all who need it would boost the number of full-time working women with young kids by 17%.
An impact on future earnings could leave women further behind
Pesek said that women getting pushed out of the workforce, or having to take time off, doesn’t just impact them in the short-term: They’re also accumulating less income and savings for later in life.
“The double edged sword of that is that, while women end up with less retirement income than men, they also tend to usually need more retirement savings because women tend to live longer than men,” Pesek said. “Women are more likely to be single later in life and have higher health costs than men as they age.”
Women opting out of opportunities, or leaving the workforce altogether, could exacerbate already-persistent wage gaps. Those wage gaps also have their own share of inequity, with women of color facing even lower wages than many of their white counterparts.
“I think that we’re going to be studying the outcomes of this pandemic on women in the workforce for decades,” Pesek said.
While the fall of 2021 has loomed as a potential return to “normalcy” and work – especially as schools and childcare centers prepare to reopen – the rise of the Delta variant could also be threatening that.
“Women are having to rethink the plans again that they possibly laid for the fall thinking that there was light at the end of the tunnel and that they were going to be able to get back on track,” Pesek said.
Amazon is the second-largest US employer and still one of the fastest-growing in the country. It offers income and benefits to well over 1 million people, and it’s been a source of jobs and shopping convenience during the pandemic.
With that level of influence, Amazon’s operations have come under intense scrutiny, which has prompted a nationwide unionization effort. The following covers everything you need to know about what it’s like to work at the company.
How Amazon culls its workforce
Insider is investigating Amazon’s system for improving, or ousting, employees deemed underperformers. Once managers label workers as struggling, they are put on a “Focus” coaching plan. If they fail there, the workers are moved to another program called “Pivot,” and then finally to an internal company jury that decides their fate at the company.
The system has been criticized by some current and former employees, who say it is unfairly stacked against them and can encourage managers to give bad reviews to good staff. Amazon says it gives managers tools to help employees improve and advance in their careers. “This includes resources for employees who are not meeting expectations and may require additional coaching. If an employee believes they are not receiving a fair assessment of their performance, they have multiple channels where they can raise this,” a company spokesperson said recently.
There’s been a rash of lawsuits filed against Amazon alleging gender and racial bias. In May, five current and former female employees sued the company Amazon, claiming “abusive mistreatment by primarily white male managers.”
In February, Charlotte Newman, a Black Amazon manager, filed a suit alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. And last year, a high-profile female engineer called on the company to fix what she saw as a “harassment culture,” Insider reported.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company investigated the cases, found no evidence to support the allegations, and doesn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment.
The company’s fulfillment centers employ hundreds of thousands of people, offering pay and benefits that are competitive versus other retail-industry jobs. But the work can be grueling, some staff don’t stick around long, and there are growing efforts to unionize this modern blue-collar workforce.
Amazon warehouses are partly automated, using robots that zip around the shop floor fetching pallets of merchandise and bringing them to employees who pick the correct items and pack them for shipping. The company hires thousands of extra temporary workers each year to support a surge in orders during the holiday shopping period.
During the pandemic, online orders have jumped at an unusual time for Amazon. It prompted an unprecedented hiring spree last year but caused tension with workers concerned about entering warehouses that could spread the virus. These issues came to a head earlier this year, when employees at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, voted on whether to form a union. The effort failed, but there’s a bigger union push gathering steam.
Amazon’s delivery network relies on thousands of drivers
The company partners with UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service, but it also operates a massive fleet of in-house delivery vehicles. These vans are driven by a combination of employees, third-party courier services, and contract workers.
Amazon is known for imposing strict time constraints on drivers and tracking how many times they stop and how fast they drive. While the company factors in break times – a 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks – some drivers say they either can’t or don’t want to take them.
Earlier this year, a US lawmaker tweeted that Amazon workers have to pee in bottles. The company denied this, but multiple drivers confirmed it was part of the job. Amazon later apologized and said drivers have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic and being on rural routes, adding that the issue has been exacerbated by closed public bathrooms during the pandemic.
Amazon remains an important employer that is growing quickly. Unlike some of its Big Tech rivals, the company offers a range of positions, from highly technical roles to blue-collar jobs. It’s recruiting methods range from massive job fairs to tough one-on-one interviews.
The company ranks among the top employers among technical students. In a survey published last year, Amazon came 10th in a survey of engineering students, beating out Intel and IBM but trailing Tesla and SpaceX.
Amazon has opened an investigation into its Prime team in the wake of internal complaints about gender bias and a hostile workplace culture for women.
The probe, which coincided with Insider’s reporting last week, suggests Amazon is taking the allegations seriously. The company’s Employee Relations Central Investigations unit told one of the Prime employees who filed a complaint that it was taking ownership of the case, according to an email seen by Insider. The team has asked the person to provide additional information about the issue.
“We appreciate you reporting these concerns and take them seriously,” the email said. “Your concerns will be investigated as appropriate.” An Amazon spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Last week, Insider reported on what some employees said was a culture of aggressive male-dominated leadership within Amazon’s Prime unit. Current and former employees described meetings where male leaders used aggressive language toward women. They also said women received fewer promotions than men, and recent internal company data showed only four out of a total of 41 senior leaders under Jamil Ghani, the vice president of Prime, are women.
When contacted earlier this month for comment, an Amazon spokesperson said the allegations did not reflect the culture of Amazon or the Prime team.
“We have worked hard to foster a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture in which all employees feel supported and successful within the Prime organization,” the spokesperson said, adding that the group aimed to double the number of women in leadership roles in 2021.
The allegations are the latest in a series of public accusations about Amazon’s workplace culture.
In May, five current and former female employees sued Amazon, alleging “abusive mistreatment by primarily white male managers.” In February, Charlotte Newman, a Black Amazon manager, filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. And last year, a high-profile female engineer called on the company to fix what she said was a “harassment culture,” Insider previously reported.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company investigated the cases, found no evidence to support the allegations, and didn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment.
Women are just as inclined as men to vote against a policy to reduce a gender pay gap if they are personally benefiting from the status quo. This is one of the main findings of my new study, which was published in January 2021 in the journal Applied Economics Letters.
I conducted a series of laboratory experiments in which I recruited participants to do a 30-question quiz. The participants knew from the start that they would be paid based on the number of questions they answered correctly. In roughly half of the sessions, the quiz was written in a way to give men an advantage. I achieved this by choosing questions that were mainly on topics that surveys show men tend to be more interested in than women, such as sports and certain movie genres. The quiz for the other half of the sessions were designed in a similar way to give women an advantage.
In the version with a male bias, men answered an average of 21 questions correctly, while women answered only 13 right. This was meant to mimic the current real-world situation in which men, on average, earn more than women. The questions were carefully chosen so that the quiz that favored women had mirrored results: The average woman answered 21 correctly, the average man just 13.
Three times at different stages of the experiment participants voted to either be paid $1 for every correct answer or to give the group that was at a disadvantage a leg up. If the second payment option won the majority vote, the disadvantaged participants would get $1.25 per right answer, while those who benefited from the biased test would receive just 85 cents.
In all three votes, which had similar results, I found that women were actually more likely than men to vote against the policy that would have led to a narrowing of the pay gap when they earned more money in the quiz. On average, 96.8% of women’s votes were against the proposed corrective payment policy when they were more likely to correctly answer the questions, compared with 90.5% of the men’s votes when they had the edge.
In addition, when women were at a disadvantage, they were more likely to vote in favor of the corrective policy, with 79.5% supporting it versus 73% for the men.
While social science laboratory experiments like mine cannot fully capture every nuance, I believe my qualitative results are similar to what we would find in the real world.
And surveys have found that men are more likely to oppose measures to correct this gap and even question whether the gap exists in the first place. A 2019 SurveyMonkey poll showed that 46% of men believe the gender pay gap “is made up to serve a political purpose” rather than a “legitimate issue.”
My research suggests women might feel the same if the positions were reversed. Additionally, it suggests that men would also likely be equally vociferous in calling for a narrowing of the gap if they found themselves in a world where they were holding the short end of the stick.
Ideally, I hope this research will lead people to reexamine the positions they hold on issues like this one and consider how self-interest may be driving their arguments. Maybe it can lead to more understanding and increase the focus in these debates on the available evidence.
In my current and future work, I seek to experimentally determine people’s willingness to sacrifice personal financial gains in favor of an outcome that they see as serving the common good. This involves, for example, testing how much income the average employee or executive is willing to sacrifice to reduce income inequality.
In comes a new email from your boss. The subject reads, “You are invited … “
Your stomach flutters with anticipation. What could this possibly be about?
You open it up to learn … your boss is sending you to a “women’s conference.”
Every year, hundreds of women-focused business conferences are held across the globe. This is great, right? At first blush, it certainly feels great to be selected for one.
Wow! They must think a lot of me to choose me to participate!
Awesome! Who will I be able to mix and mingle with?
(Secretly) What will I wear? I need to stand out.
But pretty soon reality sets in.
Hang on. I’m already slammed. This is going to throw another monkey-wrench in my schedule.
Wait, why is Janice invited? She leaves every day at 4:00.
So, what are all the men doing that day?
What exactly are the chances that I’ll be volunteered to help organize this thing?
Women’s business conferences are a noble idea. If you’ve been to one, it’s hard not to be in awe of the passion, sophistication, and attention to detail demonstrated by the organizers and attendees.
But if there are so many amazing women’s conferences, why is gender diversity still such a massive issue in the corporate workplace?
Obviously, this is a complicated question. Improving women’s conferences isn’t a silver bullet, but considering how they miss the mark can shed some light on the problem as a whole.
My podcast cohost and I recently drew up a list of all the things we’ve generally disliked about the over 25 women’s conferences we’ve collectively attended. Here they are:
1. They are too politically correct and vanilla. There simply isn’t enough plain speak and authentic, hard-earned perspective.
Suggesting that women’s conferences should be less politically correct immediately brings to mind a HuffPost article that shared an insider look at a particularly egregious (and politically incorrect) conference held by Ernst & Young.
When I read this article, I gasped. And then laughed. The gist of it was a completely ludicrous education about how to rise in your career by working within the gender stereotypes of the 1960s: Eschew anything masculine (but don’t flaunt your body), approach men deferentially, avoid being assertive, and above all, avoid being authentic.
This is not the kind of political incorrectness we need.
Instead, what we need is less jargon and more real talk. We also need to laugh more; we face a lot of ridiculous things in the average work day, and sometimes simply laughing together about it helps us get through it all.
Cut the crap. No more phrases that have been done to death such as “lean in,” “executive presence,” “speak up,” etc. These are all solid ideas, mind you, but they’ve become meaningless with overuse. For example, the term “executive presence” infers that women have to change who they are to succeed. The result? Many of the most qualified women decide to opt out of the bigger roles. Women need authentic examples, preferably interesting ones, not buzzwords.
2. There are too many professional facilitators and consultants and too few women who have actually been in the trenches
Consultants have their place, and conferences definitely need facilitators to start – and keep – the balls rolling. But relying on academic advice from people who have never personally navigated the landmines of rising through the corporate ranks leaves a lot of expertise on the table.
Conferences need to do more than pay lip service to the idea that women can be leaders by allowing them to actually lead. Encourage them to share their experiences, their ideas, and their solutions. Another common issue with these conferences: Focusing on problems women are assumed to face without enough timely, tactical, or tangible advice on how to solve them.
If we want women to be leaders, we must make sure that the conferences aimed at that goal are interactive and offer opportunities to put those skills to use.
3. Organizing conferences is often a time suck for the very people they are supposed to be supporting
Too often, organizing a women’s conference falls to a woman who is already working her butt off in a leadership position. And although helping each other rise is a noble and worthy goal, the women leading the charge are generally forced to shoehorn the planning into an already tight schedule filled with all the other responsibilities of the job. One wonders: How many male executives spend hours on end organizing events for other men?
According to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace” study, companies’ commitment to gender diversity has gone up 13% since 2015. However, only half of employees think that gender diversity is a priority in their company. Could this be because it is left to women alone to lead the charge?
4. The conferences are too darn formal
Generally, a women’s business conference looks and feels like a conference designed for a very uptight, stuffy, unapproachable man. Everything – from the agenda to the seating – screams button up and mind your manners.
Is this really an environment that fosters the authenticity and vulnerability required to bring your best self to bear? We think not. Why not customize the experience to the attendees? What’s wrong with comfy couches, bean bag chairs, or (gasp) yoga pants?
To be fair, many icebreakers are not formal. In fact, they can be cheesy and sometimes downright offensive. This isn’t true across the board, but we’ve definitely experienced some doozies. Women may prefer comfortable clothes and humor, but we aren’t children. Drop the dumb games.
5. Women’s conferences only include, well, women
Though the intention behind female-only conferences is good, they still perpetuate the myth that women need to learn how to behave in order to become leaders. This is simply not true. The same leadership skills that work for men work for women as well.
We need conferences designed to challenge the idea that there is one right style of leadership – and that that winning style can only be achieved by straight white men. Yes, women must be included in these conferences, but so must leadership. How can we drive change without all the leadership in the room?
So what do we do?
Don’t try to change women for the job. Instead, enable them to change the job.
Though the EY conference is an extreme example, it highlights one of the biggest issues we have. We give advice to women focused on how to act just like those before them – whether male or female. For some reason, we believe there is only one way to be in order to be successful. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
When I was initially tapped for my first corporate executive position, I actually said, “No thank you.” I feared I’d have to become someone I’m not. I feared I would have to compromise my family, my health, and even my identity to be successful.
It took a while to realize that I have unique qualities that I could exploit (humor, humility, and the ability to inspire) and that the things that I wasn’t so good at (extensive travel, detailed operations) could be addressed by strengthening the team around me.
I love the quote by soccer legend Abby Wambach, “Imperfect men have been empowered and permitted to run the world since the beginning of time. It’s time for imperfect women to grant themselves permission to join them.”
We have got to stop pretending that there is a linear formula for being a successful leader. Instead, we must help women celebrate and exploit their unique, positive qualities.
Go ahead, hold women’s conferences, but shake them up … significantly
So, until we arrive at the nirvana that is true gender diversity (of all kinds, mind you), women’s conferences offer a unique opportunity for us to learn from each other. However, that only happens if the women attending and leading are allowed to show up as their authentic selves.
Showcase speakers that tell it like it is. Give real-life actionable examples of women who’ve crushed their careers without selling their souls, and play some fun music while you’re at it.
A few weeks ago, my podcast cohost and I experimented with something like this. Imagine a conference that kicks off with dancing and lip synching into a room packed to the gills with high-powered and successful women in the financial industry.
Not sounding so bold?
One of us was wearing a bedazzled tracksuit, and we may have had props, parody videos, and cheese cubes. And, it wasn’t just a show. We got real down and dirty about the things that helped us rise into executive positions. The crowd left incredibly inspired to be more of themselves, both in work and in their personal lives.
If we can’t shake up a conference, how can we hope to shake up the workplace?
It is time we start acknowledging that we must get much more creative in our approach to gender diversity if we ever want to have a shot at reaching parity.
We need to start asking the tough questions:
What is working and what isn’t?
What bold moves do we need to make to go from looking at gender diversity as a problem to solve and embracing it as an organic source of strength, especially in the corporate world?
Whether you’re a decision-maker or low down on the totem pole, one thing is clear. It is going to take all of us thinking well beyond the current conference box to get where we need to be.
Last year, I received the iconic Turquoise Pantone 1837 Blue box as a bonus gift from a Fortune 500 company. Inside was a handwritten, congratulatory note and a gift certificate for $1,500 to Tiffany & Co. It provided a woman’s name and phone number to call for personal concierge service, along with an option to take the gift certificate directly into a store to select a piece of my liking. It was the most memorable bonus gift I had ever received.
I emphasize memorable because I have earned a performance bonus of $1,500 or more several times throughout my professional career, and while it’s incredible to receive “unexpected” cash, or achieve a bonus that you have been chasing, it was the creativity and personalization of this gift that made me feel appreciated and empowered.
It’s no secret that working women seek flexibility and want to be rewarded and judged on deliverables, as opposed to how much time we spend at the office. We also seek equal pay, in particular for women of color. While these issues continue to play out, it is promising to see more companies shifting their efforts to prioritize company culture, as evidenced by examples like this terrific, supportive note that a Chicago-area CEO sent to his employees to demonstrated that he understood they have personal lives.
So, what else do women really want from their employers? I checked in with four female business leaders, authors, and TV personalities on the topic, and here are their ultimate insights.
1. Go beyond meeting my expectations
“Enlightened employers go beyond meeting the basic needs of their employees and seek to truly understand how to engage them,” Denise Lee Yohn, brand leadership expert and author of the book “FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies,” said. “By connecting what’s personally important to someone with the purpose and values of the organization, companies create meaningful relationships with employees and align their efforts with the brand.”
Yohn elaborates, “An example would be how Airbnb opens the café in its headquarters to employees’ families, even for dinner. This helps working parents, as they don’t have to worry about rushing home to prepare a meal or to spend time with their children. And it is a terrific expression of Airbnb’s brand mission — to help you feel that you belong anywhere — and its core value of hospitality.”
2. The value of my work is personal to me
Carrie Bobb, president of Carrie Bobb & Co, a real estate firm that works with women-focused brands such as Soul Cycle, DryBar, and Sephora remarks, “Exceptional employees, the most valuable assets for an employer, want to know they matter and that the work they are creating is meaningful and will last beyond their time spent at the company. It must be personal. During extremely difficult situations or in the midst of managing a crisis, it is critical to have empathy. Not just express empathy, actually have it. There’s a difference. Often in large corporations, there are so many people involved in the messaging itself that the heart can get lost in translation. Employees want to be heard and understood, and they can tell the difference between a manager expressing the message the company wants to deliver and a manager actually expressing they care for the individual.”
3. Ask for my opinion
Jenna Wolfe, the host of Fox sports show “First Things First” and a former “Today” lifestyle correspondent, offers a sincere and direct perspective.
“I’ve worked in television for 23 years, the bulk of which have been as a sportscaster in a male-dominated field,” she said. “The happiest of them have been when I felt appreciated, respected, and valued. I want to know that you need me, that you want me, and that I make a difference. Ask me my opinion, let me sit in on content meetings, listen to my ideas, and show me you’ll actually implement the ones which can help us grow. Don’t get me wrong — a raise is nice. An extra vacation day never hurts. And I’m always down for a gift card to any sports apparel store. But for me, as a woman who comes to a sports office every day well read and well prepared, there’s nothing that makes me happier than commanding the respect of the people I work with.”
4. Everyone likes to feel included
Gina Smith is the president of Rauxa, a woman-founded and led advertising agency owned by Publicis Groupe, and says she prioritizes being empathetic to a diverse group of women. She says, “We have always operated from the perspective that every employee deserves empathy, transparency, and the knowledge that everyone’s ideas are valid regardless of who they are. So it’s not just about meeting the needs of female employees — although that’s critically important — but also about age, experience, gender, orientation, color, and every other area of inclusion.”
Each of these testimonies reinforces that women want to feel valued, respected, and understood, and there are numerous ways for employers to demonstrate that. Meaningful, thoughtful, and personal gestures will go a long way and create a lasting impression. As a company founder of a female agency, I personally love to reward my team with personal gifts or self-care items that they would not spend money on for themselves, such as a massage or yoga membership, and by empowering them to take on more of a leadership role.
For the curious, with the Tiffany’s gift certificate, I purchased a Paloma Picasso necklace that reads “LOVE,” a value that I prioritize in both my work and daily life. I wear this necklace almost every day and I never forget where it came from. In today’s fast-paced business world, it’s key to treat your employees like people, not transactions, because everyone can always use a little more love, all while moving up the leadership ranks.
This article was originally published on Insider on October 23, 2019.