Women in Green Building Struggle With Pandemic Impacts: USGBC

A majority of the women surveyed by the U.S. Green Building Council said there have been setbacks in gender equity in their offices since the outbreak of the virus.

Woman working from home during coronavirus pandemic
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Nearly 90 percent of women in the green building community report facing financial, familial and professional challenges as a result of the ongoing pandemic, according to the U.S. Green Building Council

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Of the nearly 500 women surveyed by USGBC in August for the Women in the Workplace report, 62 percent also said the pandemic has affected gender equity in the workplace.

Those responses mirror a recent United Nations study that warned COVID-19 could undo decades of progress in gender equity and a Bureau of Labor statistics report that found 55 percent of the jobs lost in the U.S. due to the pandemic were held by women. For those responding to the USGBC survey, the number of women who had lost employment was 6 percent, but they also reported having significant difficulty finding new positions. One of the respondents said “proportionally more women were laid off in my office than men, and women were called back to work after the men were.”

For self-employed women, the survey found COVID-19 has created even more challenges, including lack of work and lack of time to find new business due to increased caretaker demands. One independent architect reported her projects were stopped and she had not received any income for the past several months. Taking on more of the household chores left fewer hours for her to seek new projects.

Perhaps because women are often shouldering more of the burden when the children are home from school, survey respondents stated the pandemic has impacted their family lives a bit more than their professional lives, 68 percent and 61 percent, respectively. Fifty-seven percent of the survey participants said they had children under 18, with 42 percent having infants or toddlers at home. Fifty-three percent of the women said their children were aged 4 to 8, and 42 percent noted their children were 9 to 11 and older. Some reported incredible stress because of the increased challenges, especially those with younger children. The report notes some women in the green building industry are concerned about what the future will hold.

“When faced with competing priorities, many women in the workforce are having to de-prioritize paid work, putting their professional hopes and dreams on the backburner for an indeterminate amount of time. Uncertainty, familial pressures impact the ability to engage effectively at work, triggering women often to silently struggle with stress, anxiety, depression and other challenges to mental health,” the report stated.

The good news is a majority of women responding to the survey—86 percent—reported feeling supported by employers, particularly as they juggled remote working and childcare. Some of the silver linings associated with work-from-home mandates included greater flexibility and autonomy to create their own schedules, elimination of commuting time and spending more time with family. Many survey participants reported their employers had restructured deadlines, reduced hours and were more understanding if a conference call was missed or a toddler wandered into a Zoom meeting.

“As long as the work is done and on time, it doesn’t have to be done during traditional business hours,” said one woman.

Some respondents said human resource departments and office leaders were communicating regularly with remote staff, sharing information about employee benefits and supporting emotional and physical well-being. One company gave every employee an additional 40 hours of paid sick leave to encourage people who weren’t feeling well to stay home. Other firms provided funds for childcare issues. Some companies provided tools and support for workers to set up their home offices including adding new collaborative software and ensuring workers’ home internet speeds were sufficient.

What’s next

The report notes green building organizations should be training leaders to be empathizers and ensuring underrepresented employees feel seen and heard. Employers should continue providing flexible work schedules and clearly communicate expectations to help improve the employee experience.

The USGBC’s Women in Green program has been working to elevate female voices in the green building field since 2012. The organization is focused on fostering leadership, creating opportunities and encouraging accountability. The group has already reached more than 5,500 women across the globe but reports there is more to be done. USGBC encourages women in the industry to register for the Women in Green event at Greenbuild on Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. EST and to get involved with the Women in Green working group.

Read the full report by USGBC.

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