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Leadership News Briefs

Survey Reveals Pandemic-Fueled “She-cession” Has Hurt Female Professionals

A study of more than 300 C-suite leaders reveals that the pandemic significantly reduced opportunities for women to advance at work – and leaders feel more stretched and less able to help.

An international study of business executives has revealed that the global pandemic has severely limited workplace advancement opportunities for female professionals. It also revealed that leaders feel restricted in their abilities to step in and help, due to other COVID-19-fueled business challenges.

The pandemic disproportionally caused challenges for many working women compared to men. Female job loss and resignation rates were both higher than men. Egon Zehnder’s survey uncovered that these setbacks hold the potential to disrupt women’s leadership, advancement and work-life balance in the long-term.

At this point in the pandemic, the Delta variant further postpones reopening plans for many businesses. The systems, cultures and processes leaders re-establish now will be vital to championing women in the “new” workplace. They will also be critical to building strong, diverse and resilient organizations.

How the pandemic has impacted female professionals

Key findings from the survey include:

 97 percent of C-Suite leaders agree that remote work benefitted female employees.
  • The pandemic kicked remote work into high gear. When asked about the ways women in their organization have benefited from remote work, most C-suite leadership highlighted greater flexibility in work schedule, better work-life balance and greater personal/family time without a commute. However, one drawback to remote work is that 7 in 10 C-suite leaders say remote/flexible employees may be passed over for leadership roles. This is due to less physical visibility than those working on-site.
Despite benefiting from remote work, 84 percent of executives expect female leaders to return to the workplace at the same rates as male leaders.
  • C-suite leaders justify this view by citing the necessity of having the same rules for men and women (46 percent). However, another 37 percent also add that women are effective at their jobs and are good leaders at their company. Therefore, having them back in the office is best for their business and staff.
4 in 5 C-suite professionals say the pandemic has negatively impacted women’s progress in the workplace.
  • In addition, 76 percent of leaders believe women in their organizations are juggling more professional and personal responsibilities than men.
2 out of 3 C-suite leaders have experienced burnout during the pandemic.
  • Sixty-nine listed pandemic-related stress as a direct contributor. 86 percent of respondents noted a change in their personal responsibilities since the pandemic. These changes range from caregiving to increased household responsibilities. This change is also noted by both sexes. Men were more likely to say their personal responsibilities increased (72 percent) compared to women (63 percent).
Challenges exacerbated by the pandemic have made it difficult for C-suite leaders to meet their own goals.
  • Ninety-five percent say COVID-19 impacted their abilities to be successful in meeting business, team culture and personal leadership goals.

How to help female professionals

To address these challenges, business executives need to prioritize redefining long-held constructs and definitions of work. They must create cultures that allow female workers and leaders to thrive in this latest evolution of the workplace. This requires a more human approach to all facets of leadership and consideration to how we work, where it happens and how we collaborate. Leaders should explore new success indicators and adopt different models of working, with more emphasis on quality and speed of work, than on time spent in the office.

Leaders must also take allyship and mentoring to the next level. They should go beyond expressing support, but take personal responsibility for creating a more inclusive workplace and ensuring there are opportunities for career progression across the organization. The results show that just 25 percent of respondents are promoting women. Only 12 percent are pursuing equal pay to support women’s advancement. Thirty-seven percent are building confidence and giving encouragement. Still, there needs to be more specific and tangible plans in place for ensuring women’s advancement.

Taking actions to improve the workplace

“While prior to the pandemic, women had been making steady headway in the workplace – increasing leadership roles, board presence, organization visibility and more – COVID-19 has all but halted that progress. Even worse, this new survey demonstrates the pandemic is threatening to reverse these trends and stall advancement long-term,” said Pam Warren, Egon Zehnder’s Global Co-Lead of DEI. “Leaders need to act now by taking swift, tangible action to redefine long-held constructs of what work means and looks like to create a post-pandemic culture where women – and all workers – can thrive.”

The study was published by leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder. It was released as part of their annual Leaders & Daughters initiative. This initiative comprises a series of events that bring together leaders across generations. These leaders discuss the opportunities and challenges women face in the professional world. In addition to the live discussions, leaders from around the world can pen personal letters of wisdom to their daughters and mentees through the To My Daughter campaign.

For more information on this study or the Leaders & Daughters event, visit

About Egon Zehnder

Egon Zehnder is the world’s preeminent leadership advisory firm, inspiring leaders to navigate complex questions with human answers. We help organizations get to the heart of their leadership challenges. We offer honest feedback and insights to help leaders realize their true being and purpose. Our 525 consultants across 63 offices and 37 countries are former industry and functional leaders. They collaborate seamlessly across geographies, industries and functions to deliver the full power of the Firm to every client, every time. We believe that together we can transform people, organizations and the world through leadership.

For more information, visit

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