More office equipment for women
After a pandemic-induced exodus, building owners and business leaders are forced to re-confront workplace inclusivity to bring women back into the office.
Courtesy of Women Back to Work
Mira Stoimenova, Program Manager for Women’s Return to Work, leads a workshop for the organization, which helps female employees with gaps in their resumes re-enter the workforce.
Although pay and representation parity slowly, sometimes laboriously, improved in the years leading up to the pandemic, the crisis has dealt a blow to gender diversity efforts, undermining years of progress.
The world of work is slow to recover. According to Oxfam International, 64 million jobs held by women were lost in 2021, the second year of the pandemic. This represents 5% of total jobs held by women compared to a loss of 3.9% among jobs held by men. It’s a phenomenon with economic consequences – consultancy McKinsey & Co. estimates a $1,000,000 impact on global GDP if decisive action is not taken.
In a context of widespread labor shortages, these figures represent a setback. But Mira Stoimenova, manager of the Women Back to Work program, an organization that helps female employees re-enter the workforce after a career break, said they also offer new opportunities to improve workplace policies, especially for working mothers.
“There’s definitely been some momentum since the ‘handover’ began,” she said, noting that WBW has facilitated the hiring of nearly 400 ‘returns’ in 2021. “Companies realize that they have to do intentional work to attract women from behind.
Implementing flexible working hours or improving paid vacation policies are among the ways companies can recruit and retain more female employees, said Yuletta Pringle, knowledge advisor for the Society of Human Resource. Management. Physical amenities, such as on-site childcare or improved lactation facilities, may also be in greater demand as women return to the office, she added.
In September, Houston-based start-up Work & Mother announced it would partner with CBRE to expand into Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Work & Mother’s full-service suites include hospital-grade pumps, refrigeration and storage options, cleaning and sanitizing stations, private bedrooms, WiFi-enabled workstations and more.
CEO and Founder Abbey Donnell said that before the pandemic many working mothers pumped in wellness rooms which was a step in the right direction but still posed health and safety risks.
“Fast forward to Covid, and [offices] are closing common areas, so there are no more wellness rooms,” she said. “Now mums were truly clueless, at a time when sanitation, health and wellness were more important than ever.”
The shift to hybrid working meant that business leaders were caught between a rock and a hard place – dedicated lactation rooms made less sense with employees coming into the office two or three times a week, but studies show the equipment is crucial to retaining female employees. According to Work & Mother, 43% of new moms end up leaving their current job in favor of breastfeeding-friendly jobs, while 75% of women want to return to work after maternity leave.
Donnell’s model offered a solution – as shared building equipment, suites removed the logistical burden for tenants while providing landlords with the opportunity to turn underutilized space into marketable equipment.
“This is the type of equipment that really draws people to campus, and it can help our tenants retain and attract new employees,” said Skylar Huth, director of asset management at Nuveen Real Estate, owner of Four Oaks Place in Houston, a five-build office complex that will house a Work & Mother suite in February. “On the ownership side, it allows us to be a partner in the business and not just an owner cashing a check.”
Courtesy of Labor and Mother
Work & Mother offers full-service nursing suites for office buildings. Facilities include hospital-grade pumps, private rooms, Wi-Fi enabled workstations and more.
Abby Alford, Director of Transaction Management for CBRE, facilitated the deal with Work & Mother. She said innovative amenities like full-service nursing suites will keep office buildings from becoming obsolete as businesses embrace working from home.
“Office space is in competition for uses and places where employees will want to work,” she said. “There must be an incentive for employees to come and have an experience in the office.”
The pandemic has moved the conversation about childcare forward, with national operators like Bright Horizons and KinderCare increasingly partnering with desperate employers and building owners to lure parents into the office. By the end of last month, Bloomberg reported, Bright Horizons had partnered with more than 1,000 companies to provide parents with onsite and backup childcare.
New attention is also being given to office design with female employees in mind, said Gracie Andraos, design director of commercial interiors at HKS Architects. Some of these features, such as wellness clinics or lactation rooms, already existed in offices but were not necessarily generalized.
“Women and especially mothers appreciate the flexibility,” Andraos said. “The policies of these individual organizations need to be evaluated in terms of attracting and retaining employees, and then the design can reflect that.”
The commercial real estate sector has not been immune to gender disparities in job losses due to the pandemic. In a July survey of more than 1,000 CRE professionals conducted by The CREW Network, 78% of respondents said the pandemic had stalled progress for women in the industry.
Of the 12% of respondents who said they lost their job due to the pandemic, almost 80% said they left involuntarily. Reasons for leaving ranged from canceled projects and closed markets to difficulty balancing personal and professional responsibilities.
Barbi Reuter, 2022 president of The CREW Network, said the pandemic has set back recent efforts to diversify the industry, especially among women of color. According to the organization’s survey, of all the women who lost their jobs during the pandemic, 27% were Latina, 16% were black, 9% were white and 7% were Asian.
“There is no doubt that women of color have been hit harder [in terms of] job satisfaction, the desire to change jobs or pay equity,” said Reuters.
Closing the pay gap will be a crucial part of addressing the gender and racial disparities that have widened during the pandemic.
“It’s a good time to do [pay equity studies], because wages are everywhere and people leave, sometimes for more money but not always, sometimes it’s for more flexibility,” Reuters said.
If companies really want to diversify their workforce, Stoimenova said they need to deal with bias in the hiring process. Women who have empty resumes because they took time off to raise their children are often passed over in favor of male candidates, she said.
Eight years ago, Doris Akpovwa left a two-decade career in the geoscience industry to spend more time with her children. After migrating from Nigeria to the United States in 2020 and deciding to return to work, Akpovwa said she had to start from scratch. After completing a data science and analytics program at Georgia Tech, Akpovwa began her job search.
Several applications went unanswered before Akpovwa partnered with Women Back to Work. As her job search unfolds, she said she relies on her marketable skills as a woman.
“As women, we are able to multi-task, and that’s something very valuable,” she said. “We are built and ready for this; we are more flexible.
Getting women back to work will require prioritizing their needs, Donnell said. The support for Work & Mother services, not only from female stakeholders but also from men, is an encouraging sign for the prospect of a more inclusive workplace, she said.
“You have landlords setting up food trucks, dry cleaning services, draft beers, golf simulators,” she said. “If you have all these offers in your building but a good chunk of your tenant base is pumping closets and really struggling, you need to think about the message your building is sending.”