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5 Ways Insurers Can Help Women Return to the Office

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According to the White House, there are now 3.7 million fewer women working than there were in February 2020, in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has eroded more than 30 years of progress in women’s labor force participation.

At STEMconnector, we have many different initiatives to encourage people to go into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. Via our Million Women Mentors (MWM) group, we work to spark the interest of women and girls in pursuing STEM careers. The MWM goal is for women to pursue, persist and thrive in STEM.

To that end, MWM recently took a look at women in the insurance industry. Many told us they felt they needed a more supportive working environment that acknowledges — and respects — the unique circumstances of working women.

Here are ideas that came up at our latest webinar from Women in Insurance, about re-entry to work life post pandemic.

Of course, these ideas can also help employers ease all kinds of employees back to working in an office.

1. Employers need to know that everyone (including women) has dealt with a lot of mental fear, and even post-traumatic stress disorder, from the events of the last year.

Moderator Margaret Resce Milkint of Diversified Search Group noted that 2020 was a year of loss. Many women were hit hard, and not with just one thing. They suffered from PTSD, burnout, fear, anxiety and loneliness.

2. Leaders need to do a little bit more than say, “Here’s our 800 number.” Listen to employees, lead with empathy, and erase stigmas around mental health.

Michelle Dickinson of Care for Your People and author of “Breaking Into My Life,” discussed the importance of psychological resilience and the ways in which companies can support their employees by leading with empathy.

She wants to humanize mental illness and change the stigma around mental illness, especially in the workplace, by teaching managers to open a dialogue around mental illness.

One in three of us is struggling with anxiety and depression. Employers should be aware of that.

3. Employers need to show flexibility about options for returning to work.

Deborah S. Morris with Verisk said that it was important to her that her company was very flexible with time, telling her to take a break or do things she needed to do for her family. Now that the pandemic is passed, Verisk is looking at back-to-the-office options and listening to staff members and their needs. Morris learned that, sometimes, being happy and healthy is good enough. Trying to do it all, but not anything well, isn’t positive. Burn out is no good for anyone.

4. Employers can treat women as valuable assets that know how to get things done.

Another panel topic focused on a recent New York Times headline, “Pandemic Takes Women Back 10 Years in the Workplace.”

Sarah Y. Cho, from Chubb, said that, while many might think motherhood and climbing the ladder are mutually exclusive, they don’t have to be. After taking two years off with her first child, she now has a determination to never stop working, because staying at home is not for her — she would rather be using her skills.

5. Employers need to be aware of diversity in the workplace

Another topic that came up was the current climate of racial tension, including the murder of George Floyd and hatred of members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Margaret Spence of C. Douglass and Associates said that, with the racial tension in the air today, companies need to do more than listen, and that it’s time for action. She that we need more than surface acceptance of diversity.

We can’t have town hall fatigue — talk — and then go back to the silence of doing nothing. Checking the ‘woman’ box is not diversity.


Pen (Image: iStock)Amy Etten is second vice president, client services, at STEMconnector, an organization that helps employers support efforts to increase the diversity of workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, and a senior director with STEMconnector’s Million Women Mentors program.

 (Image: JenkoAtaman/Adobe Stock)