Willow Spotlight: Marla Capozzi – Valuing Women and DEI in the Workplace

by Willow Editorial Team

Employers play a critical role in the financial well-being of most individuals and families. In order to create an inclusive environment, companies’ commitment to their employees’ financial well-being should go beyond providing their monthly paychecks. At Willow, we have seen first-hand the transformational benefits when employers prioritize DEI and provide financial and life journey coaching and resources to women and underrepresented employees as they navigate key moments.

McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org recently released Women in the Workplace 2021, the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. The data shows that companies are at risk of losing women leaders and continue to fail women of color.

I spoke with Marla Capozzi, a leader of McKinsey Academy, to get her perspective and some of the key takeaways from the study. During her 20 years at McKinsey, Marla has worked across strategy, innovation, digital, and leadership issues.

We discuss the challenges of being a woman in the workplace and how progressive solutions like Willow can help prevent burnout and allow women and other underrepresented employees to feel more valued.

Lacy: What are some of the highlights of the Women in the Workplace 2021 study for you?

Marla: The representation of women across the corporate pipeline has improved, albeit modestly and certainly not where we want, and this happened with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, women remain underrepresented and progress is uneven.

Women are now significantly more burned out (42% say they are often or almost always burnt out at work) and increasingly more so than men (28%). In the past year, 1 in 3 women have considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers. And yet, women are rising to the challenges as strong leaders as well as continuing to take on extra work.

Lacy: Can you tell us more about the uneven progress?

Marla: We have all experienced and been part of an increasing focus over the past year on DEI and racial equity. Even with this heightened attention, for women of color, their day-to-day experiences have not improved. Additionally, Asian women are less likely to receive positive feedback on their leadership abilities and have fewer interactions with senior leaders. We also see this extending to women with disabilities (1 in 10 working women). Less than half of women with disabilities feel they have equal opportunity for advancement. Lesbian and bisexual women often face disrespectful behavior in their workplaces.

Lacy: What are the types of extra work women are taking on?

Marla: The extra work includes doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. We also see that women are more likely than men to practice allyship. For example, in consulting, this is all about creating opportunities and mentorship that will be career advancing. Even though women are rising amidst the added stress and exhaustion, their work is going unrecognized and unrewarded by most companies. Women are more likely to support employees’ well-being by providing emotional support and check-ins, navigating work/life challenges, ensuring manageable workloads, and taking action to prevent burnout. This is all resulting in a new standard for leadership. And this attention to well-being and DEI positively affects employee outcomes.

Lacy: What are some actionable steps that employers can take to counteract the challenges identified in the report?

Marla: For starters, employers can recognize the significant contributions made by women and underrepresented employees, make sure that these leaders are rewarded appropriately, and cultivate a culture where they feel valued.

To counteract employee burnout, in addition to embracing flexibility and clear boundaries, companies can provide progressive employee benefit solutions like Willow that focus on supporting employees as individuals. By addressing their personal financial well-being and individual life stressors, employees understand you care about their distinct needs and demands both inside and outside of work. Willow is providing a real solution for employers to help women and other underrepresented employees feel heard and valued.

Lacy: For you personally, what have you done differently to address these challenges at work?

Marla: When I read the report on what women are doing, I find a great deal of similarities for myself. I have been spending significant time talking with my teams about their experiences and challenges. I want to recognize the complexity of everyone’s unique situation. For example, in collaborating with a young LBGTQ colleague, the challenges were about finding a voice in the room and the confidence of speaking up. For others there are both work and personal challenges people are balancing. We cannot assume that just based on race or affiliation we understand what people are experiencing. I also spend time educating myself through these conversations and reflecting on how I am showing up as a leader and what might those implications be for my colleagues and clients.