Two women laying down smiling up at the camera.

International Women’s Day 2021

Author: Laura Morrison

International Women’s Day is a time for both celebration and reflection. After a year filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and fatigue, we have to ask: what does International Women’s Day mean for us in 2021? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for us all. However, women – particularly Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and Asian women – have lost more jobs than men in the past year. Between these job losses and the increasing caregiving required at home, women have been bearing the brunt of what Dr. C. Nicole Mason has termed the “she-cession” – a recession that is having a particular impact on women. This isn’t unexpected; women’s work has historically been undervalued. Enduring gender biases contribute to both the segregation of women into low-wage occupations and the consistent gender wage gap. This is especially true of Black, Hispanic, and Asian women, who are disproportionately concentrated in jobs in both the service and care sectors, which are understood to be essential but often poorly paid and without comprehensive benefits.

Women’s lower wages can be partially connected to the central role that many have in caring for their families. Women are more likely to be responsible for a wide range of family caregiving – caring for children, elder care, handling household needs, as well as coordinating appointments and activities. Many working women do not have access to supportive work-family policies that enable them to fully participate in their jobs while managing their caregiving responsibilities. Women are consistently left in a precarious position because of the lack of policies to support both work and care, which is rooted in long-standing assumptions and often racist and sexist stereotypes that devalue women’s roles and expect women to juggle it all. 

In 2021, we need to recognize that we cannot rely on women, particularly women of colour, to be our social safety net. We need to create effective, permanent policies and increased investment to ensure that women, their families, and our overall economy, will thrive.

As an employer, a manager, a supervisor, or just a concerned citizen, there are several ways you can step up in 2021 to work for tangible gender equity in your workplace. Here are things you can start talking about at work today:

Ensure your practices recognize that women are diverse. 

Women are not one homogenous group – we have various sexualities, abilities, races, religions, ethnicities and lifestyles. It is critical to think about the layers of identity and how practices can be made to speak to this diversity. 

Strengthen and enforce policies and practices regarding discrimination, harassment, and retaliation to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.

Ensure your policies around discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are transparent and clearly understood by employees. Have regular conversations to communicate these policies and to present opportunities for feedback. Implement a formal feedback system, and implement the feedback you receive into workplace practices.

Expand employment protections and benefits to part-time workers, independent contractors, and temporary workers.

All employees are valuable members of your team. It’s important to assess how you are supporting and caring for all your team members, even if they are not in full-time permanent positions. What can you do to advocate for employees’ needs?

Implement flexible workplace policies and fair scheduling practices.

People live diverse and varied lives. By allowing some flexibility in working hours and schedules, you could have a tremendous impact on employees’ quality of life and their ability to do their jobs well. This might look like allowing employees to set their own hours, or working to schedule employees for shifts that work best with their other commitments.

Close the gender wage gap by strengthening equal pay protections and combatting pay discrimination.

Conduct an audit of how much you are paying your employees. Look for trends in who is getting promoted and what new hires are moving through your pipeline. When you identify trends, think critically about why they are happening and how you can ensure more equitable processes and policies.

Establish high-quality, affordable childcare. 

As an employer or manager, this one could be out of your control. However, this is something you can advocate for on a larger level with both local and state or provincial governments. Childcare is a top concern for working parents, especially mothers. There are many reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on women, but lack of childcare is one of the most frequently mentioned. You can support your employees today by offering time off, paid family leave, or flexible working hours.

Guarantee all workers have access to permanent, comprehensive paid family and medical leave.

With women bearing the brunt of caregiving duties, many have to leave jobs or go without pay to handle family and medical emergencies. This can result in major, long-term consequences for a woman’s career. By offering support through difficult times, you can not only strengthen employee retention but also make a long-lasting impact on that employee’s overall career trajectory. 

Provide all workers with paid sick leave.

Paid sick days are a top priority not only for supporting employees, but also for ensuring we can become healthier as a society. Workplaces that do not have adequate sick leave policies leave employees no choice but to work while sick, which has led to countless outbreaks of COVID-19. Additionally, studies have shown that paid sick leave increases productivity and promotes workforce stability long-term. By offering paid sick leave, you communicate to your employees that you care about their wellbeing, which strongly influences employee attitudes, work ethic, and retention.

This International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate all the resistance and resilience we’ve seen from the women in our lives. However, we can’t stop there. This is the perfect time to rally around this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge, and rededicate yourself to working towards gender equity – in your own workplace, and in the world at large.

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