APRIL 23, 2021
By Susan Revell
Companies that actively increase the diversity of their management teams come up with better ideas, create superior services and outperform their peers financially. Harnessing differences is a business imperative. COVID-19, however, introduced new challenges to attracting, retaining and advancing a diverse pool of talent. The McKinsey 2020 Women in the Workplace survey found that the pandemic has disrupted corporate America in ways that have had a distinct impact on women, with one in four women considering ‘downshifting’ their careers or leaving the workforce entirely due to the pandemic.
Recent findings indicate that employees in this position feel unable to bring their whole selves to work during the pandemic and worry that their performance has been judged negatively. Caregiving responsibilities play an important role in this, with mothers bearing more of the burden than fathers. We need to address these issues before they reverse the progress towards diverse workforces made so far.
Communication is at the heart of the solution. Companies must create a culture where contact is encouraged and where there won’t be negative repercussions when asking for help. Conversation and regular chats have become more important in the remote workplace.
At BNY Mellon, we have increased how often we talk to one another over the past year, led by our executives and managers. Our ‘ask me anything’ sessions with senior leaders give everyone the opportunity to share what is on their minds. Our employee resource groups have been invaluable, creating opportunities for conversation with ‘tea and talk’ and ‘coffee and connect’ sessions. Colleagues have spoken openly about difficulties with loneliness, general fatigue with the situation and, as highlighted in the McKinsey study, challenges with caregiving.
We’ve also launched campaigns like ‘supporting you now' to help managers and colleagues find the tools and resources that they need, shared through monthly newsletters and manager emails.
The ‘notes to self’ initiative was part of our 2020 global mental wellbeing awareness campaign, which recognized the challenges of working from home.
In October 2020, seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Bank of New York Mellon launched the global mental wellbeing campaign, "It's OK," in which employees were encouraged to share personal written messages giving them permission to engage in activities that would support their own mental health.
A simple message from senior executives encouraged colleagues to prioritize self-care, in whatever form works best for them. Having global leaders share their personal ‘permissions’ on our intranet, such as ‘It’s OK to feel overwhelmed by what life is throwing at me or mine’, normalized this topic and opened up dialogue. The blog generated over 7,000 views and more than 100 contributions from colleagues posting their own notes in response.
Over the past 12 months, our programs have been shaped by these ongoing conversations. Our mental health first aid network was expanded and changes to leave policy were introduced. Back-up care days were increased to 15 per employee per dependent and a virtual babysitting service was launched along with a personal resilience app. A new care leave policy lets employees take up to 10 working days of paid leave to help manage planned and unplanned life moments. These might include difficult home circumstances, unexpected emergencies, short-term medical issues affecting the health of immediate family members or short-term childcare challenges.
C-suites and boards recognize that empathetic leadership and a focus on wellbeing are important as we work our way through the pandemic. COVID-19 brought many challenges, increasing the risk of our workplaces losing talented women. To fight against this, we must keep lines of communication open, listen and lead with compassion, and understand how we can intervene to support those whose experience may be difficult.
We can all be proud of the resilience our colleagues have shown working from home during the pandemic. Companies need to continue to focus on the challenges and opportunities remote work has delivered, and to value strength in diversity in order to be employers of choice.
This article first appeared in the OMFIF Gender Balance Index 2021 Report on March 8, 2021.