The coronavirus pandemic has upended the traditional workplace environment, especially as many people continue to work from home amid ongoing outbreaks of the virus, but a new report found that women, in particular, have been negatively affected. As companies navigate the impact of COVID-19, Nasdaq's Lauren Dillard, Executive Vice President of Global Information Services, emphasized the importance of listening and communicating with all employees.
This year's Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Co. and non-profit organization Lean In found that employees are exhausted and burned out. Many employees feel the need to “always be on” or available for work at any hour, and a significant number of employees are worried about layoffs and furloughs. For working parents, the burdens are even heavier, managing not only work but also childcare and homeschooling responsibilities.
“Taken together, these challenges paint a picture of a workforce that is dealing with unsustainable pressure and anxiety,” the report stated.
With the pressures of the pandemic, Dillard stressed that creating a clear line of communication is critical. She noted that at the start of the COVID outbreaks, Nasdaq President and CEO Adena Friedman began holding bi-weekly company-wide town halls to keep the communication lines open, and the company continues to send out surveys to employees to get their feedback on the situation.
“It's a constant dialogue with our employees, making sure they know that we don't have all the answers, but we're listening, and we're trying to figure out what those answers are. It's certainly been a journey to this point, and we expect it to continue,” Dillard said during a panel at the recent American Banker's Most Power Women in Banking: Next event.
Dillard acknowledged how these conversations have shifted throughout the year, noting that, at first, the executive team focused on how to help employees, figuring out what is needed to continue working remotely. Now, many of the conversations center around how to safely bring people back into the office – and if they want to come back.
Although these discussions are ongoing, Dillard looked at the silver lining. “The positive is that this made everyone human. It was a little bit of a great equalizer, especially for those of us who have global teams,” Dillard said, noting that she has been on more Zoom calls with children, pets, spouses and parents than ever before.
“I think there's been humanization. We're all more empathetic to everyone's issues, which I don't think was natural in the workplace before,” said Dillard.
This has been particularly relevant for working parents. She noted, for example, how one of her VPs and a mother of three children was splitting childcare duties with her spouse, and needed to limit her calls in the morning. Dillard cited this as an example of the importance of direct communication, boundary setting during this unprecedented time, and being flexible to support employees.
Creating such flexibility within a person's schedule is critical in retaining employees during this unprecedented time. The Women in the Workplace report found that lack of flexibility and the burdens of housework and childcare are a few reasons that some employees, especially women, are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help; don’t be afraid to talk about it,” Dillard said. “There’s someone out there that wants to help you.”
During the pandemic, existing inequalities came to the forefront as the United States and communities around the world reckoned with racial injustices. For Black women, who already face more barriers to advancement than most other employees, the “emotional toll of repeated instances of racial violence falls heavily on them,” the study noted.
To address this reckoning, Nasdaq began internal discussions on self-educating, providing a list of resources, training courses and books to read, while heeding the input from members of its GLOBE (Global Link of Black Employees) employee network.
“We were very forward about wanting to create an environment that focused on allyship, self-education and listening,” Dillard said. “We believe that as corporate employers, you need to be a destination where people know you're thinking about your employees and know you're listening.”
“Whatever the new normal will be, it could be quite a benefit for keeping more people in the workforce, and especially more women in the workforce, if we make it right,” Dillard said.