Gen Z girls and women have been hit hard by the pandemic, particularly those who face increased barriers as a result of their lived experiences of gender, age, sexual identity, ethnicity and religion, and their economic and social circumstances.
According to a RBC report from late 2020, among women in Canada, two key age cohorts are leaving the workforce in notable numbers: young women, and women most likely to be rearing young children. In fact, the size of the labour force for women aged 20-24 shrank roughly 4.6% from February to October, even as young men’s labour-force participation for the same cohort rebounded.
On a global scale, the UN’s International Labour Organization Youth & Covid-19 survey surmised that the impact of the coronavirus crisis on young people was “systematic, deep and disproportionate.”
Yet Gen Z is also a powerful force for systemic and sustainable change. They are beginning to enter the workforce and will soon account for over a third of the global population, with some estimating that in a few years they will make up a quarter of the global workforce.
To truly build back better, companies and organizations must ensure the voices of Gen Z girls and women play an active role in the rebuilding process. If they do not invite girls and young women in all their diversity to the decision-making table – they will not create lasting change on gender equality in the workplace.
We heard from young women leaders who offered some concrete steps your company or organization can take to invest in, and support, Gen Z girls and women in your build back better efforts:
- Invest in, and support, young women from BIPOC, immigrant, and low-income communities. Launch hiring programs and processes that target and support women from these communities, and ensure they are set up for success as they are onboarded into your organization.
- Create training programs or certificates to make your workplace an environment of lifelong learning and continual career development. After a year of scaled back personal development opportunities and training, many women and girls may feel like they don’t have enough knowledge or skills to apply for or pursue leadership roles in the workforce — programs like these can help address this imposter syndrome.
- Create mentorship programs for women and girls to learn from one another’s experiences and perspectives. Young women benefit from support and empowerment. Mentorship programs create a formalized space to build a reciprocal relationship where both parties can exchange knowledge and experiences.
- Create realistic entry-level paid internship opportunities for young women who are entering the workforce. Paid opportunities are critical for ensuring young women of all socio-economic backgrounds can access internships.
- Provide more flexibility and at-home work hours. Many women struggle to balance family commitments and professional career progression. A learning from COVID-19 is that work can often be flexible and done from home.
- Create initiatives to actively listen to women entering the workforce. Hierarchies and power structures can be deeply entrenched in workplaces, so putting in place an anonymous survey or feedback form that allow young women employees to share how they feel in the work environment is key to supporting Gen Z. Your company could even host annual/biannual public roundtables or seminars with young women as the target audience to hear their insights and ideas.
- Invest in current community programs that focus on providing young women with the skills needed to be competitive candidates. There are many organizations that directly assist youth in their professional journeys. Investing in these programs, especially financially, will help reach more Gen Z women.
If companies and organizations invest in this generation of young women at this critical moment, they will boost the economic growth that is needed to power the COVID-19 recovery while moving the dial on gender equality in the Canadian workplace.
Together we all have a unique opportunity to kick-start progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and build a better normal – where every girl grows up with equality, justice and full access to her rights.