Maybe it’s because Women’s History Month is drawing to a close, but one thing I’ve been asking myself a lot lately is: With so much changing in the past year, why do so many things feel the same?

The answer I’ve come to is that while many companies adapted during the pandemic, they didn't truly evolve.

Here are three examples where that failure to evolve may have occurred. They’re all relevant to the themes of Women’s History Month, and with a basis for action, I’ve also closed out each section with a question that I hope will inspire you to think through next steps at your organization.

1. correcting troubling gender disparities 

As the novel coronavirus marched around the globe, it afflicted men and women equally. But in the world of work, the pandemic has been anything but indifferent to gender.

Consider the fact that 34 percent of men working at home with children received promotions during the pandemic, compared to just nine percent of women. The same is true when it comes to compensation: Twice as many men with children at home received pay raises during the pandemic than women. Likewise, women are reporting both lower productivity and lower job satisfaction than men during the pandemic.

In other words, men got promotions and raises while women got more burned out. This is likely due, at least in part, to women bearing outsized responsibilities for childcare and elder care. Even with partners at home, the stress of balancing those duties with work didn’t seem to lessen — and their careers suffered because of it. 

Finally, whenever and however we fully emerge on the other side of the pandemic, the labor force will be worse off for the absence of nearly three million women who dropped out of it over the past year for a host of reasons related to the pandemic. At present, we’re looking at a steep, sustained decline in workforce participation among women, unparalleled since the seismic economic realignment following the end of World War II. 

For companies reflecting on their commitments during Women’s History Month, let’s pose the question directly: What can you do to offer them a way back in?

two females working and smiling on their laptops in an office
two females working and smiling on their laptops in an office

2. going from words to actions with diversity and inclusion

The Black Lives Matter movement was in the headlines almost as much as COVID-19 last year, and the conversations it inspired are ongoing. In a matter of months, grassroots demonstrations bloomed into the largest social movement in U.S. history, claiming support from the majority of American adults across every racial and ethnic group.

While moving from conversations about gender and ethnic diversity to action is a major challenge for organizations across the board right now, here are a few thoughts about next steps for private equity, because that’s an area where we have a lot of visibility.

By all accounts, private equity firms are overdue for greater gender parity, however that is measured. Fewer than one in five private equity employees are women, simply for starters. And this is despite the fact that in finance, gender-balanced teams have been shown to average 20 percent higher rates of return.

Beyond those near-term returns, there are reasons to think engaging directly with diversity and inclusion makes good business sense. For example, one study found that roughly three out of four employees want their organizations to not only take a stand on hot-button social and cultural issues, but to be actively involved in and contributing to the debate. If by moving the needle on diversity and inclusion you also avoid costly attrition, in my mind that’s all to the good.

So for private equity firms, let’s consider three anchoring questions that should help frame the debate internally:

  • Where are you recruiting?
  • Who are you partnering with to source and hire?
  • What metrics or KPIs — productivity, performance, bottom-line results — are you using to measure the impact of these initiatives?

Answering these questions won’t take you across the finish line, but at least you’ll be in the right position for the starting gun.

3. anecdotal evidence

I was on the phone with a client last week — a senior leader at a successful PE firm — who told me, "I honestly don't know how my employees are doing right now. I feel disconnected from them. I’m worried about people leaving."

Now, the issue here wasn't lack of concern or empathy on his part. I know him, and I know his organization. I know that they have an active, thoughtful HR team, for example, and that they’re doing pulse surveys, regular check-ins, Zoom calls and more to get a read on morale and engagement. 

But guess what? None of that stuff is cutting it anymore. Old maps won’t help you navigate uncharted waters. In key ways, what’s more, the core competencies and skills people relied on to do their jobs pre-pandemic have changed. People aren’t working in the same ways as they were 12 months ago, and the same should be true of organizational leaders. 

So I ask you: Do you know how everyone on your team is doing, and what more could you do to make them feel supported?

closing words

One of the privileges of my professional practice at Tatum is the access it grants me to the inner workings of many organizations. Since many of my recent conversations with clients have revolved around the same constellation of concerns, concerns touching on organizational culture, employee engagement and, above all, leadership, I wanted to gather my thoughts in writing. I hope they’ve served as a useful prompt for your own reflections — and equally, that you’ll follow those up with action.

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