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Updated: June 7, 2021 know how

How to counter the Shecession

Transformational leadership requires optimism, resilience, and determination. 

Chelsie Vokes is a labor and employment lawyer at Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey.

Employers will need to demonstrate the same traits to remedy the COVID-19 Shecession, according to a WBJ webcast from April 20 entitled “How To Reverse the Shecession.” The program on the pandemic’s effects on working women surfaced exciting solutions for a widespread challenge.

Just 57% of women participated in the workforce in 2020, the lowest number since 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Moreover, one in four working women have been thinking about either downshifting or exiting, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

AiVi Nguyen, partner with the law firm Bowditch & Dewey

Yet, the WBJ panelists have found ways to stem the tide and redefine what a workplace can be, including:

• Shelley Costantino, vice president of field human resources at BJ's Wholesale Club in Westborough

• Desiree Murphy, senior labor & employee relations specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester

• Kati O’Brien, vice president of HR corporate functions and total rewards at Staples, Inc. in Framingham

Determine what employees need

Whether through town halls or field meetings and surveys, it takes a mindset shift to surface employees’ pain points in this new environment. HR executives are conditioned not to cross professional/personal boundaries, but they need to throw that playbook out the window.

Create a feeling of safety so employees will open up on any issue – from ill parents to the inconveniences of mask wearing.

Be empathetic and flexible; an empty nester must put herself in the shoes of a single mother with three children.

In a unionized workforce, use collective bargaining to identify issues, and collaborate to solve them.

Remember, though, listening is only half the solution; taking appropriate action is the other.

From a legal standpoint, leaders must be prepared for what falls out when employees really unload. If, for example, a complaint of harassment or discrimination surfaces, supervisors must be trained to investigate and address the complaint.

Deliver the right solutions

Offerings will vary by organization and individual employees’ needs. Staples supported its warehouse workers facing pandemic-related childcare dilemmas by offering flexible scheduling options and free access to

BJ’s has met its remote employees’ needs for wellness, balance and collegiality by adjusting absentee policies, placing moratoriums on emails outside regular work hours, and creating virtual hallways for those who miss spontaneous conversations.

UMass Memorial, too, is meeting people where they are: from leveraging childcare partnerships to adjusting employees’ hours. Delivering the right solutions isn’t limited to employers with deep pockets. Eligible employers may provide employees with COVID-19-related sick and family leave benefits while taking advantage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act tax credits program, which has been extended through Sept. 30.

Time for a reset

The panelists are optimistic about the workplace reset ahead:

• Parenthood is celebrated, and not seen as a work intrusion.

• Employee Assistance Programs are more accessible.

• Employees are trusted to create a work schedule fitting their lives.

Work will change for the better, they agreed, for all employees.

Editor’s note: Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey, where attorneys AiVi Nguyen and Chelsie Vokes are employed, sponsored the WBJ Shecession webinar.

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