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Insights & Innovation | What working women want

A survey of professional women in partnership with Vox Media and Watermark

Watermark and Vox Media’s Survey of Professional Women (September 2021)

In late 2020, we saw the first real, lasting effects of the pandemic on women’s careers. As work-from-home became the new normal and more women left the workforce for good, even those who kept their jobs found that their mental health, career progressions, and overall satisfaction were impacted.

Institute of Women’s Policy Research reports that while women’s labor force participation has increased consistently since 1970, the Covid-19 pandemic has altered this trend, with “Black and Latina women shouldering the largest share of job losses.” Lean In / McKinsey & Company’s annual study of women in corporate America found that one in four women are “contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce” due to the pandemic; a year later this figure had risen to one in three women. They conclude that companies risk losing women in leadership— and future women leaders— if they fail to address this crisis.

This fall, Vox Media partnered with Watermark, a leading nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of women, on a survey of more than a thousand female-identifying professionals (women in white collar positions and/or college-educated women). Looking ahead to 2022, we wanted to further understand what working women want— and how their employers can help them get it.

What we found is a wake-up call for employers. As many recent surveys have suggested, outdated work norms are hurting women and companies alike. From childcare and time off to mental health and career growth, women’s professional needs are changing— and it’s time their companies change with them.

Summary Findings:

  1. Women want remote workplaces and flexible schedules. Two-thirds of respondents have worked from home since the start of the pandemic (March 2020) and 80% said flexibility in the workday schedule was a benefit of working from home. The experience appears to have impacted women’s preferences, with 90% saying they now prefer a fully remote or hybrid workplace.
  2. Career momentum has slowed for the experienced. Many women in the workforce have seen salary increases or promotions during this time— but mostly those under age 55. Full-time employment among women age 55+ dropped 16%, with these women taking unplanned retirement or becoming unemployed.
  3. Fatigue and burnout are widespread. Despite the benefits of flexible schedules, 59% of women reported worse emotional/mental health and 54% a worse sense of well-being; just 1% said their work/life balance improved while working remotely. Almost 40% expect emotional fatigue and burnout to worsen when they land in their post-pandemic workplaces.
  4. Women of color have greater concerns. Women of color are more likely to expect their career prospects to worsen post-pandemic, including less access to mentors, networking opportunities, exposure to higher management, and visibility for promotions.
  5. The importance of benefits.There are clear gaps between the benefits companies offer and the benefits women desire. More than half of women expressed interest in taking personal leave/sabbatical, but only one-third of employers offer this benefit. Similarly, just 30% of employers offer the mentoring/coaching programs that 46% of women seek.

Read more about our study and what women want from the future of work by downloading the white paper here.