As businesses embark on new ways of working, the resilient companies of the future are likely to be those that create equitable work environments where everyone can thrive.
Making this happen is all the more important given the rise of new barriers to women’s workforce participation during the pandemic. According to McKinsey, one in four women considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce during the pandemic, often due to increased demands of childcare and other responsibilities at home.
With pandemic recovery on the horizon, empowering women around the world to continue their careers was a key focus of a recent episode of Salesforce and Reuters’ Resilience Recast podcast.
I, along with our guests, discussed how to use this moment as a slingshot into the future, not an elastic band that brings us backward.
Creating a flexible working environment
At Salesforce, we’re looking at each of our roles and exploring what is possible, including flexible working models to suit employees’ situations. Maybe they don’t need to come into the office, or maybe it’s just once or twice a week.
We’re also asking how we can rethink our real estate and create an environment that better suits the needs of our employees and their new working habits.
Through flexibility, we believe we can create a better workplace for everyone. For example, in Australia, New Zealand and across ASEAN, we’ve learned that more flexibility has led to more productivity and balance. Our Sydney office in particular has become a greater place for human connection and a hub for collaboration. We’ve seen 64% of collaboration spaces like lounges and conference rooms utilized, in comparison to 24% of desk space.
Building new pathways for women into tech
Across all sectors, systems need to become more welcoming and more equitable. To open up the technology industry specifically, our work should begin with education. Encouraging more women to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) will help us address women’s under-representation in emerging roles such as cloud computing, engineering, data and AI.
To truly build a workplace that looks like society, women need to be represented at every level, particularly on corporate boards and C-Suite positions. This requires supporting women at all stages of their careers, through mentoring, investment in leadership development programs and inclusive promotions processes.
Everything we do must be underpinned by a commitment to equal pay for equal work. To date, Salesforce has spent more than $16.2 million to adjust salaries for our employees globally to address statistical differences in pay. We also regularly conduct equal pay audits across our entire organization.
Encouraging sustainable support for parents
In an all-digital, work-from-anywhere world, we need to be mindful to not fall back into old gender norms by creating a two-speed workforce — where women choose to work at home and men go back to the office — ultimately putting more pressure on women to take on the brunt of the housework, childcare, and continuing to do their jobs remotely.
If business is to be the greatest platform for change, we need to be engaging with governments around what policies we need to weave into our social fabric. This is particularly true in relation to providing sustainable support for parents, many of whom lack access to affordable and universal childcare.
When it comes to wanting to have children, businesses must support and not punish parents for taking time off. One of the reasons why Salesforce is consistently recognized as a great place to work is because of our parental leave policy: all employees in Australia are given 26 weeks paid time off if they’re the primary carer of a new baby or adopted child, and 12 weeks if they’re the secondary caregiver.
If we’re going to normalize women in the office, we also have to normalize men at home. This means encouraging parental leave and supporting men to undertake flexible working arrangements.
As business leaders we can’t just talk about wanting change. We have to align our dollars, our time and our action to show how much we care about it.
And so, to build more resilient businesses post-pandemic, creating more equal workplaces must be at the center of everything we do.
To hear more on how companies can empower women to succeed, listen to ‘The Rise of Women’ Resilience Recast episode on Reuters’s dedicated page here.