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Summit Discusses Women’s Work Issues

Automatic Data Software (ADP) sponsored a half-day virtual summit titled, ‘Women @ Work,’ made up of experts, panels and keynote addresses on Friday, May 25. The summit highlighted experts who study the ways women navigate the workplace and keep their confidence while dealing with challenges.

Margaret Ferrero, vice president, assistant general counsel at ADP and the chairwoman of ADP’s Women in Leadership Organization, spoke about the effect of the pandemic on women.

“Many of us have felt the need not only to address ongoing issues in the world of work, but to also to take actions in response to come up with real solutions, plant seeds, and make significant changes that can help redefine the workforce of tomorrow,” Ferrero said. “This may sound like a lofty goal. But I believe together, we are up to the challenge. Just think about the past year and a half and all the challenges we have faced as professionals and as people. Issues that existed long before COVID-19, were magnified through this time, deep rooted issues of equality and equity affecting our business, our communities, and the very people who keep the workforce on track. At the same time, you saw renewed calls for social justice.

“It isn’t lost on us that we are holding this event on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd. Today, we are seeing a greater focus from the business community on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As we look at women in particular, we see women are disproportionately affected during this time. We know change is part of life, and over time, we learn to adapt. In this case, the scale and speed of changes caused ripples we are still trying to navigate. For some, this has meant diving into a boundaryless world of work that has pushed productivity beyond sustainable limits.

“For others, it turned into battles of pros and cons that led many to step away from professional life and focus on their own health, keeping their families intact, or both, and yet others are still looking for the right path for them. Now, as we think about how to move forward, we are bringing together experts who can offer tangible solutions to enable progress. Here’s the catch, if you could call it that: You are part of the recipe for success. As powerful and talented as we are individually. Imagine what we can do together. Creating true sustainable growth will take the collective strength of people of all genders, backgrounds and skills to turn today’s talk into tomorrow’s progress,” she said.

Christine Romans, CNN’s chief business correspondent and anchor for CNN’s ‘Early Start’ TV program, introduced ADP’s chief economist, Nela Richardson.

“We know the pandemic was an upheaval in the American labor market, especially for women,” Romans said. “But take me back to before the pandemic. Let’s start pre-pandemic and give me a sense of the landscape before the lockdown and the restrictions, and how, before that, started affecting how we were working. What was the position for women in the workforce from your data?”

“The economic downturn has affected women differently and to a different degree than men and people of color,” Richardson said. “We’re eager today to dig into this ADP data and get a better understanding of the landscape we’re in and hopefully to gain an understanding of where we can go from here to ensure the economy is moving in the right direction for everyone.

“But when you think about most data on women, it’s survey based. It’s what people report how people feel. ADP stands uniquely in this space, because we have millions of records of women and men across industries with 30,000 firms represented in this particular data set, which is nearly 13 million workers.

“This is the lived experience of working women, as revealed in their paychecks, their promotions, their turnovers, where they sit in the corporate hierarchy; it’s all there. It’s not what we report or think. It’s what is, and I think it’s a fabulous way to really dig deep into what has happened to women over the course of the year.

“Remember where we were in February of 2020? We were at a 50-year low in the unemployment rate at three-and-a-half percent. We were looking at an economy that seemed to be carrying on for the indefinite future, and women had been making gains. The women’s labor market participation rate peaked around 1999, and then kind of stalled out from 2000 to around 2015. With that 10-year expansion, that preceded the onslaught of the pandemic, we were starting to see gains in female employment from 2015 up until February 2020, when it started to match the peaks we saw in 1999.

“We were growing. It took almost 10 years to get there. Wages were starting to be robust enough to lure women back into the labor market,” Richardson said. “We were starting to see some gains. We stopped in that period with women, still trailing men, in terms of pay that hasn’t changed, making about 80 percent of what men make overall.

“It was unprecedented, and I know that word is overused, but there is no other word to explain the wiping out your ratio of 20 million jobs in a matter of two months. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly all of the jobs that were created over the previous ten years. It was difficult, because for women, job losses were over-concentrated in the very sectors that were hardest hit by the pandemic: the leisure, hospitality, health and education fields.

“Women carry the burden of added family responsibilities. Not only were their jobs at risk, but this was a health crisis, not just an economic effect. Women had this concern should they go to work and put their families at risk, even as their jobs were already at risk? We saw that trend throughout the year of the pandemic, especially in September of 2020, when women left the job market at four times the rate of men, mainly because there were no full-time daycares. Schools were closed or had very unsettled schedules. Women took that hit in terms of job loss,” she said.

With so much change and job loss, women were challenged to take care of themselves, not just others, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

“I’ve had a very unique and challenging experience over the past year,” said Amy Freshman, SHRM-SCP, the senior director Global HR at ADP. “The pandemic has hit employers and employees very hard. Studies have found working women are experiencing greater life disruption and potential harm to their mental health than men.

“As caregivers, teachers and earners, women are stretched thin. This burden is increased for many different communities, including LGBTQ+, along with single mothers, mothers of special needs children, caregivers of aging parents. The struggle is real. Now, more than ever, employers must embrace bold and compassionate actions to better support women in the workplace and implement strategies to help them not just survive, but thrive.”

Kristin Durney, CPC, the co-founder of Mental Wellness Unleashed, spoke about mental health.

“We know from the World Health Organization depression and anxiety are the two of the largest bills we have in the nation,” Durney said. “It is costing the country $1 trillion in lack of productivity and health. In 2019, the World Health Organization actually made burn-out a mental health concern. Society is hearing more about the amount of anxiety and stress individuals are experiencing in the workplace.

“Anxiety, stress, burnout and depression can come from so many places, like caretaking a child or parent, workload, work life balance, and we’re working the new way we’re living, including other environmental issues, like societal issues, continued stressors for the pandemic. The things we’re really worried about are leading to burnout.

“We know by working with organizations that burnout has become the number one issue. It’s affecting productivity in the workplace, along with individuals and business relationships. It affects our self-care, our ability to be resilient, and other areas. We need to make self-care a priority,” she said.