Ever since I got married a few years ago and registered for all the fun kitchen gadgets and toys, one has prevailed above the rest as the most used. I love using the InstantPot. That programmable pressure cooker can make chicken soup so flavorful, or brisket so tender, that it rivals Bubbe’s in just a fraction of the time. It feels like a time machine that takes all of the ingredients and instantly produces exactly what I crave.
I bring up this InstantPot not to make your stomach rumble, but because it’s a perfect analogy for the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my professional world as an Organizational Psychologist, I regularly talk to clients about their company structure and how they go about attracting, hiring and developing the best talent to meet their goals. As most office workers are currently sequestered to home workspaces, long-overlooked research on remote work is finally being put into practice. Gone are the days when we actually believed work-life balance existed; we now realize that it’s really more work-life integration. Organizational leaders are recognizing their teams’ abilities to work remotely and are questioning the ardent requirement to be on-site 40 hours a week. To my delight, we are beginning to acknowledge the ineffectiveness of micro-managers in the workplace and are eagerly awaiting their extinction!
If you asked an expert when these various changes to the workplace would finally take hold in America, you probably would have been told in another 10+ years. COVID-19 has acted like the illustrious InstantPot, taking everything we had and expediting the process.
Well, almost everything. Due to the high-pressure speed at which recipes are cooked, when an ingredient is left out of the InstantPot, it’s very noticeable. A lack of salt, acid or rich umami flavor will be noticed instantly. I have a bad taste in my mouth as a result of this COVID-19 workplace stew, because we forgot the women.
The Department of Labor has been tracking the growth of women in the workforce since 1920. In recent years, there have been hockey stick-like trends in a number of areas. Women’s participation in the U.S. labor force climbed to 56.8% in 2016. Women currently own over 10 million businesses in the United States. Now, more than one in three lawyers is a woman, compared to fewer than one in 10 in 1974. In 2019, CNBC reported that every company listed in the S&P 500 had at least one woman on its board of directors. The Washington Post notes that from 2009 to 2019, board seats held by women rose almost 60%. While pay disparities continue, and many other issues still exist for women in the U.S. workplace, overdue progress was happening.
Unfortunately, over the last few months we have seen some significant trends in the wrong direction. According to Pew Research, more women than men lost their jobs from February to May 2020, to the tune of 11.5 vs. 9.0 million. BBC reports that for many women who have not been forced out of a job completely, they are more likely than their male counterparts to pivot to part-time work as a result of COVID-19. Gender norms in the home have regressed, which has proven to have implications on the career trajectory of many women.
This is a grave missed opportunity. Prior to the shutdown, much research on remote work shows the benefits to women. Here is our opportunity to get rid of the “old boys club,” as employers are forced to evaluate employees on the output of their work product versus being biased by relationships. A flexible working environment should lead us to more of a merit-based pay structure, minimizing the gender pay gap.
This opportunity will not go unnoticed by many. For the last year, before COVID-19 (and before I became a #GirlDad,) I have been working as part of the Wexner Summit on Gender. This group aims to find opportunities to improve the equity and safety of women in the workforce within the Jewish non-profit and Israeli NGO workforce. Through this Summit, we have seen teams working toward establishing new policies and procedures in order to make organizations acknowledge their flaws and pledge to do better.
You might be thinking, what can my Jewish non-profit do? Well, start off by not making any reactionary moves. One group of researchers looked into the performance of companies before and after the Great Recession. They found that the organizations that held true to their strategies of thoughtful employee selection and development outperformed their counterparts. Look for opportunities to develop your employees and take advantage of what might be a slower time in your organization.
Next, stop mistaking activity with productivity. Just because your employees are in the office or working a rigid schedule does not mean they are performing. The idea of the 40-hour workweek was a result of Henry Ford’s time-piece studies to maximize output on the assembly line. Set goals for your employees and hold them accountable for results, not time. Try to set “core hours” wherein people need to be available for calls and meetings. Outside of that, let them balance their responsibilities.
Lastly, a good home cook always starts with a clean mise en place. Develop your recipe for where you want to go and ensure your ingredients are all carefully measured, chopped and accounted for. This way, when it comes time to set your InstantPot, nothing gets left behind.
WHP Marc Prine (Philadelphia 16) is an industrial/organizational psychologist and works with organizations to integrate empirically supported methodologies into the management of human capital. He can be reached here.
Top photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash