How women and work have changed forever

Women apply lessons of pandemic to build resiliency, foster empathetic management and improve employee experiences.

Among the many long-lasting impacts of the pandemic has been a fundamental change in women in the workplace: Where they work, when they work, and complex new challenges of balancing work and home life, but also new opportunities as well.

Tracking these changes has always been a goal of our annual Women’s Leadership Summit and related surveys, and the shift over the last two years has been significant. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve seen women leave the workforce in droves, as they often became the primary caregivers in their households and struggled with competing professional and personal demands.

But the ones who chose to stay in the workforce learned valuable lessons. Women in leadership shifted their management approach while taking on more responsibilities—ultimately improving performance and driving engagement, even during a time of disruption.

To find out more about how leadership has evolved following the pandemic, we spoke with participants of our past Women’s Leadership Summit, including executives from major organizations, who shared their insights about management and corporate culture with us. And to get an inside look at how women are rethinking leadership practices, we interviewed Kelly Reavis, director of strategic initiatives at DuPont, as part of our related Reaction Magazine publication.

Broadly, we found there were three key traits all resilient leaders developed during the pandemic: optimism, adaptability and agility, as outlined in our report, Advancing the Future of Women in Business.

Optimism

Sets the tone for their team during a crisis

Adaptability

Helps adjust to unexpected obstacles facing their team

Agility

Needed to face ongoing challenges

Taking a closer look

Above all, the women surveyed said it was vital that leaders were empathetic and provided mentorship and support to encourage employee participation and improve engagement. Reavis pointed out that these practices also create a healthy corporate culture that focuses on employee well-being.

“Showing people there are opportunities is the first step,” Reavis says. “Building a diverse culture, where people know their perspectives and contributions are valued, is the second step.”

Specifically, our latest report identified five important ways women leaders have redefined workplace norms:


Promoting resilient leadership


Maintaining open lines of communication


Weathering crises


Creating a support network


Shifting corporate culture


Maintaining resilience was a dominant theme. Indeed, the executive women in the survey overwhelmingly indicated that the most effective leaders are those who cultivate resilience—they’re able to quickly rebound after a setback and leverage opportunities to advance growth.

Along with learning to quickly react to change during the pandemic, many women also started to foster connections with employees and lean on their professional network for additional support. They highlighted the ways these practices transformed their management and enhanced the employee experience:

Almost all (96 percent) of the executive women surveyed said they have reimagined how they lead or motivate their teams since the pandemic

Sixty-four percent reported that the scope of their responsibilities changed or expanded unexpectedly due to the pandemic.

Over half (60 percent) say they’ve been able to maintain their professional network while creating new relationships in a virtual environment, and 84 percent said their mentors played a crucial role in developing their resilience.

Building trust and preparing future leaders for success

Among the biggest findings from our survey was an increased emphasis on maintaining open communication between managers and employees. While communication has always been essential, the leaders we spoke with said that making sure employees feel heard and understood is important today more than ever.

This is part of a broader shift in corporate culture. Employees increasingly want leaders to take a more compassionate approach to management in order to build trust and credibility. Indeed, more than half (53 percent) of the women surveyed said they believed their company’s culture has changed by placing a renewed focus on individual wellness and team inclusivity.

Reavis adds that it’s also important for executives to develop strong mentorship programs that promote diversity. This ensures companies’ future leaders will bring unique perspectives to the table and, subsequently, propel growth and transformation in the long run.

“[You should] make sure that those you are building relationships with don’t all look like you,” Reavis says. “I do feel a responsibility to champion diversity and to repay all of those women who came before me, turned around, looked back and took my hand to pull me forward and up.”

Contact us

Angie Gildea

Angie Gildea

National Sector Leader – Energy, Natural Resources and Chemicals, KPMG in the US

+1 713-319-2295
Lisa Massman

Lisa Massman

Principal, Human Capital Advisory Leader, KPMG US

+1 213-955-1524