Score one for science.
A few weeks ago there was a full-on revolt—in red states and blue states—against continuing to stay indoors. Memorial Day weekend was the time it seemed to culminate in a new epidemic of the “Oh f*ck its!” when it came to sheltering in place.
A lot of the desire to get back out into restaurants and hair dressers was described as coming from “red states.” But that weekend, I went on a run through Golden Gate Park, as I’ve done a few days a week for the past few months of the pandemic. That place was not only substantially more crowded than it’s been—it was the most crowded I think I’ve seen Golden Gate Park on a random Sunday in the 20 years I’ve lived here.
On cue, three weeks later, COVID-19 cases are surging.
There will—predictably— be a lot of attempts to blame the COVID spikes on the Black Lives Matter protests. Never mind that experts agree it’s too early to measure the effects of those protests yet, and that the spikes are happening in places where Memorial Day crowds gathered.
Plenty of people have done that math and decided that racism is too big a crisis not to protest. And that, with face masks and other appropriate precautions, it’s possible to combat it without necessarily surrendering to the pandemic. You only have to see the inspiring pictures of thousands of face mask-wearing protesters to see that calculus playing out.
But again, that’s not what people were doing three weeks ago. They were going to the beach, or sitting in Golden Gate park with $8 cans of rose.
So, regardless of the specific cause, we are seeing what so many doctors warned of: The very real risk of a resurgence of this thing that could bring even greater economic fallout than having just stayed the course in the first place.
As always, I care most about what this means for women and other underrepresented groups in the economy. Parents, in particular, may be looking at more virtual school in the fall. And whenever those in power start to triage things like workforces and investment portfolios, and money becomes more and more zero sum, outright bias and unconscious bias means that it’s underrepresented groups who tend to disproportionately suffer.
Let’s focus on women for a moment, since that’s my wheelhouse as a woman and the CEO of Chairman Mom. Beyond losing jobs, beyond being disproportionately impacted in terms of productivity, there’s another hit out there for working women in a COVID-extended world.
We did a survey last year digging into employee resource groups at companies. They go by the wonky acronym “ERGs” and they refer to those Women@ and Families@ and LGBTQ@ groups within companies that help push for diversity and raises and promotions for underrepresented groups within companies. I became obsessed with ERGs when I was promoting my book on motherhood, because I spoke at dozens and dozens of ERG-organized events within companies.
My jaw dropped when I heard that Women@Microsoft had more than 40,000 members worldwide. These were some major audiences, with big book sales for me as an author. My jaw dropped even further as I started to understand the breadth of the mentor programs, speakers series, podcasts, and rich, rich programming these ERGs provide in many of these companies.
And my jaw practically detached from my body and crashed through the center of the earth when I learned that even at the largest companies on the planet, no one actually gets paid to run these ERGs.
That’s right: The very underrepresented groups who already have to work several times as hard as white, cisgender men to get ahead were also saddled with the additional unpaid labor of running and organizing the advocacy groups designed to lift people like them up inside their organization.
It gets even nuttier: ERGs have a massive impact on companies. Our research showed that they have a dramatic impact on morale, retention, and recruitment of people in underrepresented groups. We surveyed 700 women via Survey Monkey, and nearly 90% of women ages 18-60 said that being part of an ERG had made their lives better at work. Nearly 40% of people said that the existence/quality of an ERG would impact their decision on where to work. Those numbers skyrocket with younger groups of women: Nearly 50% of women ages 18-29 said it would impact where they wanted to work.
Despite such a massive endorsement of the value these groups provide, only half of those surveyed felt the companies did enough to support these groups. What a massive and untapped resource to solve this seemingly impossible problem of retaining women, attracting diverse talent, and making sure they had the mentors and resources and internal sponsors to help them climb the ladder.
That was the state of ERGs in the good times, when companies were aggressively competing for talent. What about now?
My hunch is that ERGs—again, something that makes work better for 90% of women at companies that have them—are getting decimated right now, and no one is paying attention to it.You can read the rest of my thoughts on LinkedIn.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom: