March 7, 2023
Partner, McKinsey & Company
Karla Smith Jackson
Senior Procurement Executive, Deputy Chief Acquisition Officer and Assistant Administrator for Procurement, NASA
Vice President, Boeing Global Engagement
Corporate Vice President for Government and Regulatory Affairs, FedEx
Chief Communications Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
For the first time in history, more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies are now led by women CEOs, according to January 2023 data from Fortune. This shift is indicative of an overall change in women’s participation in the workforce in recent decades, in which women are changing jobs more frequently than their male counterparts and at the highest rates of all time.
Amid these big career changes, there are still external societal factors that impact women’s participation in the American workforce. In a panel at the 13th Annual International Women’s Day Forum, female leaders from major corporations like FedEx, Boeing, NASA, and McKinsey explored the current relationship between women and their careers, as well as their experiences in the workplace during this period of great social and economic change.
The Pandemic Impacted Women in the Workforce
Gina Adams, Corporate Vice President for Government and Regulatory Affairs at FedEx, noted that women lost about 11.9 million jobs compared to about 10.1 million jobs lost by men during the pandemic.
“This is really in stark contrast to what we've seen in other recessions, where men typically have had higher job loss and unemployment rates,” Adams said.
Women leaving jobs can be due to various factors, including family and childcare responsibilities, as well as limited access to capital for women entrepreneurs. Additionally, Adams noted that women in industries such as logistics did not have the luxury of working from home during the pandemic.
The Representation of Women in STEM Is Increasing
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Karla Smith Jackson, Senior Procurement Executive, Deputy Chief Acquisition Officer, and Assistant Administrator for Procurement at NASA, expressed optimism about the increasing representation of women in STEM fields.
“NASA, right now, has about 40% [women in its workforce],” Jackson said. “In the STEM communities, we have a number of women in the highest levels of senior executive service and science.”
NASA actively targets women from kindergarten through college with internships and education programs. The pandemic presented opportunities for NASA to provide flexible and accessible workplace arrangements and distant internships, which have allowed more women to access STEM internships.
The agency has also seen productivity rise with flexible work arrangements and offers employee resource groups like Women of NASA to support women throughout their careers.
“We’re looking for ways … to make sure that women maintain pace in [leadership],” Jackson added. “We think that mentorship’s a big part of that.”
Flexibility Is Key for Companies in the Post-Pandemic World
Boeing’s Vice President of Boeing Global Engagement, Cheri Carter, spoke about the importance of providing community support during the pandemic and identifying how much assistance is needed.
“What you find in a lot of these communities is that women are really the power behind all of these community activities and these organizations,” said Carter. “We have seen a strong, strong support system with women all over the world, really trying to find a way to help.”
In the post-pandemic world, Carter mentioned that “flexibility is key” for companies, particularly with regard to remote work. She emphasized the importance of family-friendly policies and support for mental health and wellness for women and women of color.
Sarah Tucker-Ray, a Partner at McKinsey & Company, agreed with Carter on the overall theme of flexibility in the workplace. She noted that McKinsey & Company recently released its eighth Women in the Workplace Report, which focused on women's empowerment and the current state of the workplace. One of the themes that emerged in the report was the "great breakup,” in which women are now seeking better career advancement opportunities, recognition for their efforts, and a better workplace culture that supports their flexibility requirements.
“Women leaders want to advance as much as men do, but they’re facing greater headwinds,” said Tucker-Ray. “We are seeing a consistent and just as strong desire for career advancement, but not the support that helps get them there.”
The report also found that flexibility will be a primary driver for women deciding to stay or leave their job.
“This is not just about hybrid or [working] remotely or [being] in the office; this is flexibility [for women] to be able to take care of what’s important to them,” Tucker-Ray added. “For employers who want to win this war for women's talent, thinking about flexibility in a different way is going to be so important.”