Companies nationwide are having a tough time navigating the voluntary exit of millions of workers out of corporate America. Companies are trying to figure out what the best formulas are to retain workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report from the U.S Department of Labor reveals America’s employers accelerated their hiring in October adding 531,000 jobs, the highest since July. The accelerated hiring is viewed by many economists as a sign that recovery from the pandemic recession is underway, but women of color, unfortunately, aren’t sharing in the job market recovery, particularly Black women who are opting for remote work as a better alternative to the corporate office environment.
Remote work has its downsides, such as juggling video conferencing calls, child care duties, or sitting at home with no social interaction with staff. The upside is that those who work in white-collar industries often find greater improvements in their work experience and don’t have to face various inequities in the workplace.
There are numerous work-related stressors Black women identify within the workplace. According to a study from the Journal of Black Studies, basic themes emerge that identify sexism and racism as triggers. They include:
1) Defending one’s race and lack of mentorship
2) Being hired or promoted in the workplace
3) Code-switching to overcome barriers to employment
4) Coping with discrimination (microaggressions)
5) Being isolated and/or excluded
Houston-based psychological associate Tierra Ledet worked in the state prison system for a healthcare company in 2020. She had a goal of climbing the corporate ladder but quickly noticed a toxic work culture among her co-workers.
“There was a serious lack in communication and people just weren’t doing their jobs properly which led to putting the safety of the inmates at risk,” Ledet said. “Working for the state was stressful because they reward you based on seniority and not merit. It took a toll on my health and it was the sickest I had ever been at a job.”
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
Ledet left her job in July 2020 and accepted two remote positions, one as a clinical associate for a measurement-based company and the other as a licensed psychological associate for a private practice. She described her experience as “encouraging.” She said remote work put her on a level playing field. She no longer felt the pressure to over-perform and she was her authentic self all while communicating with a team that valued her emotional and mental health.
Nekpen Osuan Wilson is a career coach and CEO and founder of Women Werk, a women’s networking, empowerment and mentorship organization based in New York City. She said working from home has been beneficial to her family and life as a mother.
Wilson intentionally left her role at Deloitte Consulting and moved to Houston for a 100% remote role at the beginning of 2021.
“Working in the office does become stressful for working mothers. A lot of companies are struggling to adjust virtually, and are sticking to the culture they know,” Wilson said. “In the past, women weren’t in the labor force. We weren’t economic breadwinners as many are today, so we still have this workplace environment that’s structured for men who didn’t have to think about nurturing.”
Working mothers of young children have been hit hard during the pandemic. Schools became virtual, daycares shut down and mothers took on a greater share of domestic responsibilities.
In Texas, child care often costs more than college tuition. Research by Child Care Aware America states that U.S. businesses lose roughly $4.4 billion a year because of lost productivity due to gaps in child care.
Wilson says Women Werk continues to provide a series of virtual events introducing best practices in money management, health and wellness, equal pay and salary negotiations, and facilitating conversations with corporate partners to better understand the experiences of Black women.
MANAGING EMPLOYEES REMOTELY
Dr. Steve Werner, chair of the Management and Leadership Department of the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business, saID that companies can save thousands of dollars transitioning into a remote environment, but first need to determine which roles are designated for the office versus work that can be done virtually, and how to maximize the productivity and retention of staff. Werner suggests the following:
- To keep the staff from having “Zoom fatigue” or “mirror anxiety” associated with the new reality exacerbated by video calls, managers should consider “no Zoom Fridays” or times designated to give staff breaks from being online for long periods.
- Don’t schedule meetings back-to-back. Allocate shorter, focused meeting times. Allow 45-minute breaks in between.
- Provide emotional support and encouragement for staff.
- Set up norms that don’t require everyone to have their cameras on all the time. Set up expectations for engagement.
- Make sure virtual social events are optional. Staff may feel the need to always “be on,” which adds another level of anxiety.