Celebrating International Women’s Day and the countless achievements of women seems even more important now, after the past 12 months, than ever before. Everyone has had to adjust, to put priority on staying healthy and taking care of their families and each other. But women have been hit a little bit harder, especially mothers of young children. In the U.S. alone, women’s participation in the labor force is at a 33-year low.
So, what do we do? The IWD 2021 theme is #ChooseToChallenge, a fitting mantra to call out bias and inequality in the world around us. To me, that means challenging the status quo, removing barriers, and providing opportunities.
To solve problems, we must first seek to understand. Recently, I joined other senior leaders at Tyson Foods in listening sessions with team members who are caregivers. We wanted to learn about the challenges our team members face trying to balance their career with other responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Engaging in open conversation about the different obstacles we are all facing fights assumptions and creates a space for change. Maybe you’ll learn that a coworker cares for an aging parent during a lunch break and another needs to adjust their calendar because their child’s virtual learning schedule has recently shifted. Perhaps another has a loved one who is immunocompromised in the home and is struggling to balance the stressors of care and career. Whatever it is, understanding is critical to creating a supportive environment and finding solutions.
Identifying common challenges allows us to better cater to the needs of our workforce and helps us hold our leaders accountable for creating a culture and system that supports everyone. This year, we have introduced new goals tied to the annual incentive for our top 200 leaders. These goals focus on the advancement of our team members and raising the standards of equity, inclusion and diversity, and talent development. Our leaders are responsible for ensuring that job openings are filled from a diverse slate of candidates, that rising talent is engaged and mentored along their career path, and that we’re creating a sense of belonging for all team members.
We are on a journey of continuous improvement at Tyson. This year, as I think about the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women, I will continue to challenge myself, those around me and our company to address inequality, to understand why it exists, and to champion a more equitable and inclusive environment where psychological safety is a given, and mental health is no longer a taboo. I hope you #ChooseToChallenge, too.