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Corporate Talent & Inclusion

International Women’s Day: 4 ways to break the bias for mid-career women

Natalie Runyon  Director of Enterprise Content and Talent, Culture & Inclusion Strategist in Market Insights for the Thomson Reuters Institute

Natalie Runyon  Director of Enterprise Content and Talent, Culture & Inclusion Strategist in Market Insights for the Thomson Reuters Institute

In honor of International Women’s Day, we examine how organizations can act to break down the hurdles that many mid-career women face in the workplace

The labor force participation rate among women was 57.9% in February 2020, before the global pandemic hit, and then, dropped off sharply to 54.6% within a few months. It has recovered somewhat to 56.8% as of January 2022, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

Yet, by the mid-career stage, the participation rate for women drops significantly. For example, according to the most recent information available, the labor force participation rate dropped by a stunning 17 percentage points to 29% by the time seasoned women reach VP status. Now, amid an ongoing labor shortage, retention challenges, and long-term burn-out, employers are doing everything they can to keep their mid-career female talent, but challenges remain for the retention of these mid-career professionals.

Here are four ways to preserve seasoned women’s representation:

1. De-stigmatize menopause and expand offerings for support

For every 10 women experiencing menopausal symptoms, six say it has a negative impact on their work, according to the U.K.’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. With the right support, however, there’s no need for women to take a break from their careers during this life transition.

Many forward-thinking companies are recognizing the importance of offering holistic menopause benefits and educational programs. Partnering with organizations like Elektra Health, a female-founded, Fem-Tech start-up that seeks to help women with menopause education, care, and community can be an excellent way to ensure female workforce members stays supported through their menopause journey. Implementing an official menopause policy, designating an internal “menopause champion”, organizing educational workshops, and facilitating access to top health providers and resources are simple and excellent ways for employers to demonstrate their commitment to supporting their mid-career female talent, says Alessandra Henderson, CEO of Elektra.

It is also important to note that however an organization addresses this issue, it should offer additional guidance for women of different race and ethnicities because of differing experiences with menopause. For example, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) show that women of color experience peri and menopause symptoms earlier in life than their white peers and may have increased intensity of some symptoms.

2. Address age bias

Companies need to review their talent and performance systems for ageism because unfortunately, it is alive and well and can flare up in everything from job descriptions to job performance assessments. Indeed, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports that 78% of workers in their 50s and 60s — the highest number the organization has ever seen — “had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workforce.”

In job descriptions, for example, inserting phrases like “digital native ” or “recent college grad” and capping years of experience are examples of how age bias can show up. In addition, older workers tend to receive lower ratings on performance appraisals, especially for those who have younger managers.

3. Recruit seasoned women to support managers and burnout

A new study by HiBob and Fiverr Business reveals that managers and directors are leaving their jobs at a rate even higher than entry-level employees. The pressure of balancing employee expectations to support, motivate, and value employees, along with C-suite expectations to enhance organizational culture, retention, and employee performance over the last two years has led to intensified burnout and resignations.

Giving mid-career women the opportunity to mentor managers and get paid for it is a no-brainer. For example, Baby Boomers thrive when employers give specific goals and deadlines, place Boomers in mentor roles, and use “coaching-style” feedback. And very often, women are better managers than men, according to Women in the Workplace report from 2021.

4. Build awareness of racial bias

Even after a year of increased focus on diversity, equity & inclusion and racial equity in corporate America, women of color continue to face significant bias and discrimination at work. Because the pipeline of seasoned women of color within organizations is already small, it is important for employers to know that these mid-career professionals are experiencing similar types of microaggressions, at similar relative frequencies, as they were two years ago.

Moreover, while the number of White employees who identify as allies to women of color has increased over the past year, the number taking key, proactive allyship actions has not, according to a McKinsey & Co. study. “Although White employees recognize that speaking out against discrimination is critical, they are less likely to recognize the importance of more proactive, sustained steps such as advocating for new opportunities for women of color and stepping up as mentors and sponsors,” the study noted.

Mid-career women with varied backgrounds and identities have much wisdom and resilience from their individual life experiences to offer. This includes how to thrive and survive professionally during economic boom and bust cycles and how to demonstrate empathy and care for colleagues and team members during this pivotal time. Organizations are missing out by not leveraging these assets of seasoned women.

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