How Businesses Can Support Women in Times of Crisis

JLL’s Laura Beebe provides tips on how to keep women from downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to COVID-19.
Laura Beebe, COO
Laura Beebe, PDS Americas COO, JLL. Image Courtesy of JLL

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted every aspect of our lives. It created social and economic imbalances and accelerated or reversed trends all around the world. The pandemic has also taken a toll on gender equality in the workforce, as women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the health crisis than men’s jobs, according to a study by McKinsey & Co. “Women make up 39 percent of global employment, but account for 54 percent of overall job losses,” the study reported.

Last September, some 865,000 women exited the U.S. workforce, compared to 216,000 men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The main reason for women leaving the labor force is that the pandemic and the accompanying childcare and remote-school crises put considerably more pressure on them.

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“Because mothers have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s burden, from managing full-time remote learning to full-time childcare, all while working full-time jobs, the stress has been unprecedented,” said Laura Beebe, PDS COO at JLL. In the interview below, Beebe talks about the importance of a diverse workforce and how companies can accommodate women to keep them in the workplace and help them advance their careers.

You have more than two decades of experience working in real estate. How has women’s presence and contribution in real estate changed over this period?

Beebe: We have seen much-needed growth in the representation of women in real estate—particularly in construction. Standing as the only woman in a room was a common occurrence early on in my career, and I’m proud to see how far we’ve come. Those were the days when many of my male counterparts had entered the industry because they had fathers who came from construction.

Now, as even more universities are offering degrees in construction management, there is a new generation of women entering the field, many following in the footsteps of their mothers. And it’s easy to see why. Women are excellent project managers—from their organizational and communication skills to the meticulous attention to detail needed to successfully execute a project.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected women and men in the workforce. What were the main reasons for women leaving the workforce during this period?

Beebe: JLL’s PDS business line has not seen a real change. This is likely because JLL has a history of genuinely caring for and accommodating its people, especially parents. Because mothers have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s burden, from managing full-time remote learning to full-time childcare, all while working full-time jobs, the stress has been unprecedented. Balancing work and children can seem like an impossible task, which is why it’s so important as leaders to ensure your working mothers have the flexibility and tools that they need to perform their job, without sacrificing their mental health and well-being.

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How might this outflow of women from the workforce impact the industry in the long term?

Beebe: The progression women have made towards equality in the workforce can’t be continued if the pressures women are facing are causing them to leave at such alarming rates. A strong team is a diverse team and clients want to see it. There are more women decision-makers in leadership positions today than ever before, and ensuring there are women seated at both ends of the table is critical to sustaining long-term business success.

What do employers need to do to accommodate women in the workplace?

Beebe: For employers, understanding a day in the life of working mothers and helping them find the resources they need to be successful can have a real meaningful impact on their lives. Company-offered backup care resources, wellness tools and Employee Assistance Programs are great considerations, but the key is to make sure your employees know they exist and how to access them. Promoting a work-life balance is also more important than ever. Sending a late-night email might not seem like a big deal, but it could cause unnecessary disruption to the receiver who may be looking to nonworking hours to reset their mental stability.

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What are some solutions JLL has implemented to help women keep and further their careers during the pandemic and beyond?

Beebe: JLL is proud to offer a multitude of different business resource groups that cater to diversity and different employee interests. JLL’s Women’s Business Network is dedicated to professional women and aims to inspire and educate across all levels of seniority. The voluntary group encourages women to set aside time each month for meaningful discussion in the name of career advancement.

Another, the Parent and Caregiver Experience Group, strives to make information about JLL’s offerings to parents as accessible as possible and offers added value beyond human resources. In our PDS business, we mandate diversity training for all individuals in management and commit to having diverse representation on our teams. We also offer an Emerging Leaders Program that further supports diverse employees seeking career growth.

What advice would you give to women who are facing difficulties in their careers due to the pandemic?

Beebe: Above all, take care of yourself. Think of your life as if you were an airplane passenger headed to your destination. Before takeoff, flight attendants guide their passengers through a safety formula, directing each person to secure their own oxygen mask before assisting others. The same goes for women, who so often selflessly put the needs of others before their own, making the workday that much harder.

Don’t be afraid to look for help in new ways that can ease the pandemic’s burden. Maybe that’s outsourcing housework or taking advantage of grocery delivery, or perhaps it’s simply making more time for you. Recognize the value behind your time, de-prioritize what isn’t necessary and make room in your schedule for activities that fill you with joy. And finally, remain true to yourself and your career by communicating your needs very clearly to your partner, your family and your manager.