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Op/ed: Stopping COVID-19’s Diversity Brain Drain

Researcher Warns Large Number of Mothers, and Black Ones in Particular, Are Set to Drop Out of the Workforce

By Maryland Today Staff

Illustration of people on Zoom screens

Illustration by iStock

Companies must recognize the pandemic-related challenges faced by their employees—particularly women and people of color—and work harder to keep them from quitting, argues Maryland Smith's Nicole Coomber.

Soon after the onset of coronavirus pandemic, as schools closed their physical doors and work moved from the office to home, Nicole Coomber began noticing promising professionals with children across her social media networks were putting their careers on pause.

But it wasn’t a representative cross section of the workplace stepping off the treadmill, the associate clinical professor in management and organization and assistant dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business’ full-time MBA program writes in an essay in The Hill

The majority of those working parents were women and people of color. And it quickly occurred to me that their pulling back on their careers could pose a major setback for organizations, especially those that have prioritized improved diversity, equity and inclusion among their executive ranks and corporate boards. 

My own background makes me especially sensitive to this perilous time for each of those three groups. I’m juggling childcare responsibilities as mom to four young boys with dual roles of teaching management courses and helping lead my university’s full-time MBA program as an assistant dean.

The latter prompts me, from the organizational perspective, to reflect on “What can be done, right now, to mitigate this?” Consider that mothers often engage in “covering” in the workplace, downplaying or hiding their childcare responsibilities. Now, professionalism is more difficult to maintain as our homes are the video backdrops for our work. If children come into the frame, it can upend the professional images we have worked so hard to create. These challenges affect Black working mothers disproportionately, because Black employees are judged more harshly when using a traditionally white, upper middle class definition of “professionalism.”

Read the rest in The Hill.

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