Perspectives

International Women’s Day: What Equality Will Look Like After COVID-19

Heidi Manna, Chief Human Resources Officer, Jazz Pharmaceuticals

Women have played an essential role in the battle against COVID-19, accounting for the majority of frontline workers1 and leading valuable response efforts within many communities and organizations. Still, the pandemic is chipping away at hard-won advances in gender equality.

Besides the addition of unpaid responsibilities related to childcare, at-home education and caregiving to their current workloads, women now account for more than half of the jobs lost since the onset of COVID-19.1 As Vice President Kamala Harris recently explained to advocates and policymakers, “In one year, the pandemic has put decades of the progress we have collectively made for women workers at risk.”

Against this backdrop, U.N. Women announced its theme for International Women’s Day 2021—“Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”—celebrating women as leaders while calling on countries to address new barriers emerging as a result of this global health crisis. At Jazz Pharmaceuticals, we recognize urgent action is needed to lift this burden and advance gender parity across all levels of our organization. As we look toward a post-COVID environment, we are working to ensure women are positioned to succeed and continue to be represented in the workforce.

Given the unprecedented challenges our employees and their families faced in the past year, we have used what we refer to as the 4C’s – Care, Continuity, Connection and Consciousness – to guide our actions. We are practicing innovation, agility and empathy in meeting our people’s unique needs. When employees were struggling, we threw out the rules and encouraged them to take the time they needed, recognizing there was no blueprint for navigating COVID-19. In the year since our employees first began working remotely, we have adapted policies and connected them with new resources to better serve them in real time.

Jazz implemented a suite of new benefits to address specific challenges our employees may be facing. We launched a new family tutoring benefit allowing Jazz employees and their dependents to connect live with verified tutors 24 hours a day in over 300 subjects. To help find healthy methods for processing stress and practicing self-care, we expanded our resources for mental health and well-being to include counseling sessions, financial and legal information support to all employees and their dependents. More importantly, we encourage, enable and coach our people leaders to use judgment and thoughtfully navigate the needs around unique circumstances with an eye towards support and going the extra mile to make it work.

As monumental forces continue to reshape our society, Jazz is responding with ambitious commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), communicating our goals with transparency and accountability. We know that actions and progress must be demonstrated along with our words. We recognize that gender representation is vital not only at the executive level – where we have achieved gender parity on our Executive Committee – but also that we must cultivate a pipeline of talented employees by providing opportunities for progress and development to those who could eventually fill leadership roles based on their proven experience.

In addition to thinking about Jazz’s organizational commitment to DEI and the steps we’ve taken to provide extra support to women employees through COVID-19, this year’s official International Women’s Day theme, Choose to Challenge, encouraged me to reflect on experiences where I have used my power, voice and courage to personally challenge gender bias and inequality. One example from earlier in my career occurred when a top finance executive left the organization and the company began a talent acquisition search without first considering a woman in the department who was second in command. Knowing this woman was a high performer with an excellent track record, this seemed like an oversight. I questioned the team about why they were looking outside the company and learned from a male supervisor they were worried the woman’s pending maternity leave meant she wouldn’t be in a position to take on new responsibilities, “with three young children and a husband that did not help that much”. This male supervisor thought he was protecting this woman. I challenged this unconscious bias, pointing out that the decision about timing was hers to make. The woman was eventually promoted into the position and performed exceptionally well, proving that sometimes judgments are influenced more by a person’s own feelings and attitudes than by an objective view of reality.

This International Women’s Day, I encourage you to think about what steps you can take to ensure the women in your life and your organization are in a position to succeed and how you can offer more support. We each have the power to use our voice as a tool for advancing gender equality in the workplace, even if it’s simply by speaking up to challenge the status quo and promote a more transparent discourse. I am proud of and inspired by the many talented woman leaders in my life and together we will continue to make a difference and change the world around us.

1Madgavkar, A., White, O., Krishnan, M., Mahajan, D., & Azcue, X. (2020, December 14). COVID-19 and gender Equality: Countering the regressive effects. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects#