When the world finally, fully emerges on the other side of this pandemic, women in the workplace will no longer accept being dealt what doesn’t serve them – and if companies can’t bend to suit, they may be saying bye to gender parity.
In line with The Great Resignation that has taken hold of the corporate conversation as people quit their jobs at record rates, a new survey from women’s wear brand M.M.LaFleur and The Harris Poll found that women are reprioritizing their lives — and work isn’t at the center of everything like it may have been before.
Instead of The Great Resignation, M.M.LaFleur founder and chief executive officer Sarah LaFleur is calling it “The Great Self-Examination.”
“I think what was emerging [from the study] was people saying life in the pre-COVID-19 fast lane was not just unsustainable, it was also unfulfilling. And as punishing a time that COVID-19 has been for so many people, for a lot of professional women who are lucky enough to hunker down at home, they did a lot of reprioritizing. Everything got thrown in the air and then they had to reshuffle everything and the list of priorities looks so different from what those priorities were pre-pandemic,” she told WWD. “This new way of living and new way of going forward actually allows them to allocate their time according to their new priorities rather than working to make time for your family, working to make time for yourself, working to make enough money to pay for your psychiatrist so your mental health stays in check.”
Checking in with 800 women with and without children in the U.S. between ages 30 and 50 (with a racial breakdown of 67 percent white and 33 percent people of color), the survey found 92 percent of women agreeing that “time is too precious to waste on things that don’t serve my purpose/well-being.” By age group, that was even truer for women under 40, 96 percent of whom agreed with the statement, compared to 89 percent of their over-40 counterparts.
Eighty-nine percent of women agreed with the statement that they want to be more present for their children, and 88 percent agreed that they are looking for ways to make their lives more fulfilling. Just 61 percent agreed that they want to stay long-term at their companies (and only 22 percent “strongly agreed” with that statement).
For 71 percent of women, their happiness has become more of a priority as a result of the pandemic.
And that’s likely why 25 percent said in a section of the survey allowing them to select all sentiments that apply, that they’ll be setting more defined boundaries at work. Within that, however, it’s worth noting that 26 percent of white women said they’d be setting these boundaries compared to just 16 percent of women of color who said the same — likely because they’ve historically been less at will to do so. Companies busy promising diversity and inclusion improvements will have to take care that their women of color don’t continue to be disadvantaged by not having the same abilities as everyone else to set the boundaries they need.
Contrary to popular storylines, women aren’t just itching to leave the workforce: 37 percent said they’re “loving” their current roles and 44 percent said they’re “content.”
“It’s not as though women want to drop out of the workforce, I think that was the other interesting thing,” LaFleur said. “A lot of women like their jobs but if the companies that they work for don’t adjust the way they allow women to work, that’s where you’re going to see the Great Resignation. So, it’s not necessarily because people don’t like their jobs that they’re leaving. I think it’s either A, they found their “true purpose” and they’re going to go tackle something new, or B they actually like their job but existing structures make it impossible for them to stay in their jobs and then also live a life that’s meaningful to them.”
Thirty-seven percent of women did say they’ll be on the hunt for new jobs in the next six months to two years in an effort to find something that’s more meaningful in manifold ways. Thirty-seven percent of that cohort want better work-life balance or just a change, 31 percent want to put their passion and values first and 25 percent said their contributions in their current roles have not been recognized.
If there were a key differentiator for the average post-pandemic professional woman, LaFleur says it’s that she’ll be working less, for one.
“I don’t want to say it’s a zero sum game but there are only 24 hours in a day, so realistically where is this time going to come from? I think people are going to, hopefully, spend less time commuting but I do think there are just some hours — and I want to say they weren’t even productive hours — that are going to come out of working and then be invested in other parts of their lives that women find more meaningful,” she said.
Flexibility will also be key to that more meaningful work experience.
“Everyone’s talking about hybrid work but I think rather than hybrid work, I think the word is flexible work,” LaFleur said. “You could say ‘OK, come into the office Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday’ but it’s not as though kids disappear on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. So, for those professions where you are able to kind of log on and log off more at your own discretion, I think making the ‘leash’ as loose as you possibly can will go a really long way toward women wanting to stay in the workforce. If someone wants to drop off at 3 p.m. to go pick up their kid, why couldn’t they?”
The new woman in the workforce will also be much clearer about expectations around pay parity and career advancement.
“The other thing that really came out [of the survey] was being clear…about promotion and pay,” LaFleur said. “If I’m going to stay in this and give it my all, can there be more transparency around how much I’m worth and what is it going to take for me to get to the next level? …People need to hear from companies: ‘If I’m going to give you so much of me, I want to know what I’m going to get in return.’”
The changes, beyond just improving work-life balance, could also serve to bring better parity to both work life and life at home.
“It’s almost like companies are doing a favor when they accommodate people and their personal lives, but I think something important could happen here where it’s not just the women but men also start to prioritize their families,” LaFleur said. “I actually think that’s the other part of the conversation that I want to have more of, like wouldn’t it be also great if men prioritize child care over their jobs — I shouldn’t say over their jobs — but found more room to do that in their day-to-day lives? And does this kick off that movement?”
If there were ever a time to get workplace structures right, it’s perhaps when the entire system has already been upended and could benefit from a rebuild.
As one survey respondent said, “There has to be a total shift in how women are seen in regard to their male counterparts. Too often, there is still an imbalance in the advantages and ways to get ahead for men that are not the same for women.”