This article was published in the Fall 2020 issue

by Tessa White, CEO and Founder, SHE Team

The pandemic may have wreaked havoc on businesses, but it’s also created an opportunity for them to capitalize on a resource they didn’t know they were missing: women.

Women are the most underutilized resource in Utah. This elusive group has been there all along, but the conditions are now right for businesses to gain full access to this talent pool, and to provide women more meaningful and permanent career choices.

I recently joined a call with Utah HR leaders on how the past six months will impact people strategies for the future. The list was expansive and varied, but one theme emerged across the board: remote work and flexible work schedules appear to be here to stay. This forced experiment to move people home for work undid decades of rigid thinking that employees couldn’t possibly be productive from home. While we can all agree remote work isn’t perfect, it has changed the landscape of our future. Whether businesses realize it yet or not, a rare window of opportunity has opened wide. Companies adopting a more permanent remote- or flexible-work option have just gained unfettered access to this sought-after group.

FLEXIBLE WORK OPENED THE FLOODGATES

Accessing women requires businesses to hear what this untapped talent pool has been telling us for a long time: Give me flexibility. Give me work from home options. And give it to me with fair pay. In return, you get my undivided attention. This is in direct contrast with the message I’ve heard for decades from fellow business leaders, which is that there are no women willing to enter the workforce in Utah. My response has always been the same. Just ask a woman where other smart and capable women can be found. They are plentiful. You just aren’t looking in the right places. And you aren’t offering the right value proposition to them.

Trina Limpert, CEO of RizeNext and Senior Director at Oracle, is seeing this begin to change with remote and flexible options. “Necessity has never been stronger for this shift,” she said. “Not only is there social pressure and a demand for diversity, but we now have proven we have the ability to dispatch work remotely on a large-scale basis. This is a game changer for women.”

Mothercoders,  a program RizeNext rolled out across the state of Utah, is case in point. This nine-week class is taught on Saturdays and offers free childcare, teaches women to code, introduces them to tech jobs, and then helps them enter the workforce. The response from the Utah business community and women has been overwhelming.

“Women are realizing that they have more options than working in retail,” Limpert continued. “There are other career paths that lead to long-term security.”

Businesses need to take note of this model. Consider the response of a local employer who called Limpert recently. He indicated they will be hiring 1,000 tech roles in the next two years and they want them to work from home. I hope women across the state are paying attention. Shifts like this don’t come along every day.

HOME BASED SPECIALIZED ROLES CAN ADDRESS PAY GAPS

Massive adoption of remote work hasn’t just opened up new labor markets. It has changed the rules of who and how one can ascend in a company. Dennis Wood, Vice-President at Mercato Partners said, “We have learned that a remote workforce isn’t limited to just transactional roles such as customer support. Highly specialized roles can successfully be done within a flexible remote work model.”

Stop for a moment and consider what that could mean for women. We have been some of the slowest in the nation to break into senior positions. Women in Utah  are significantly behind on wages, making only 69.8% of the wages compared to males. In part, we know this disparity exists because many women are not able or willing to pursue full-time, in-office work. Many women have needed a work-from-home option. But if virtually all roles can be done remotely, this blows wide open career paths for those who need it. If a greater variety of roles, including mid-level and senior positions are available from home, it translates directly into meaningful career paths, and higher pay that used to be reserved for in-office workers.

INCLUSION HAS BECOME EVERYONE’S JOB

Love it or hate it, Zoom has also set the stage for a more equal footing for women. Scott Allen, VP of Human Resources at Metasource, captured this shift when he said, “Zoom has been the great equalizer by changing work dynamics entirely.” For starters, we all get that two-by-two thumbnail on any meeting, which by its nature already sets us up on more equal footing for interactions with each other. Additionally, a remote workplace removes some of the unintentional exclusions that have been a sore spot in the past. For example, women often miss out on discussions that occur in lunch meetings, golfing outings, or at sporting events where male co-workers have additional chances to build personal bonds. In a remote world, there is an open window to everyone’s broader lives. As we gain glimpses into all of our co-worker’s lives, it creates connections outside of a work-only setting, naturally humanizing us, and drawing us closer together. While it’s not a perfect panacea, it does create conditions for greater equalization.

The office place of the future is still evolving, but many companies are moving to reduce the physical building footprint permanently. The new business model emerging would save money in bottom line dollars while continuing to promote equalizing work dynamics. the head of human resources for a local company indicated that permanent shifts are coming soon. “We are exploring going remote permanently. With the savings on building costs, we will offer home office stipends. A smaller business space footprint will be used to create culture hubs for employees to find space if they need to work out of the home occasionally, or to socialize in team events or meetings.” Different, yes. But also a breath of fresh air. Inclusion becomes a job for everyone when remote work is the defacto standard.

It turns out that even when the world has served up so much bad news in one year, it also accelerated a path for women to finally find their way on their terms. Companies must realize they have just been handed a gift that gains them access to this important talent pool. Now, it's incumbent on leaders to build the strategies to support this long-awaiting shift in our Utah business community.


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