How COVID-19 Has Changed Priorities for MLT Rising Leaders
Chad Murphy, Ph.D.
Director of Analytics – Management Leadership for Tomorrow
In a survey conducted in April 2020, MLT asked Rising Leaders about how their career priorities have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and found significant change in 3 of the 8 priorities (job stability, desire to help family, desire to help community) but no change for the other 5 (working for a prestigious company, compensation, desire to lift up other people of color, desire to make the world a better place). This first look at how underrepresented minorities’ priorities are changing during this current crisis can help guide recruitment and retention, and we will be tracking these over time to see the evolution as the pandemic continues and develops.
MLT sent a survey to all of our Rising Leaders (RLs) which included a series of questions asking “How has the pandemic changed your priorities for a job?” Approximately 300 RLs responded to the survey, and they were asked to respond on a 1-5 scale of importance from “Much Less Important” to “Much More Important.” The modal response for each question determined whether priorities have changed and if more RLs responded with “No Change in Importance” than any other category it was classified as no change; any other category would be classified as a change in priorities. The results of this analysis are presented below.
Unsurprisingly, job security has become much more important to our RLs since the start of the pandemic. With 30 million unemployment claims from mid-March to the end of April1, almost 50% of RLs surveyed responded that job security was much more important to them during the pandemic. The figure below shows the distribution of responses.
Respondents were also asked an open-ended question about how COVID-19 has changed their career paths, and many took the opportunity to speak to how job security has become more important to them. One respondent said:
It has certainly made me feel less confident about next steps. I feel lucky that I have a job out of college that is not laying anyone off or cutting our pay and am worried I won’t be able to find that elsewhere, despite not feeling fully satisfied in my job. Before COVID I aimed to move onto a new role within my first couple of years at my current job but now I feel pressure to stay longer.
COVID19 has highlighted the importance of not depending on my day job as the sole source of income. It’s becoming more important to have a strong side hustle and additional streams of income.
A third responded:
As a jobseeker before COVID-19, it is an even more uphill path for this population.
A fourth noted a shift in the types of companies they would be targeting because of a desire for job stability:
I had a singular focus on small companies, but have opened my search to larger organizations that might be more stable.
Perhaps the most striking response about how job security is affecting their career path came from this RL:
I feel like I’m scrambling for stable career opportunities before I start my MBA because I lack confidence that I will be able to find a job while in school. I haven’t had a chance to rest. I feel like I’m working around the clock and my job right now isn’t even taking up much of my time.
Clearly, job security is high on the minds of many of our RLs and companies should be mindful of the increased mental toll this is taking on employees, particularly underrepresented minorities.
The second significant change in priorities was helping their family. Once again, almost 50% of those surveyed responded that helping their family was much more important during the pandemic. The results are presented in the figure below.
This focus was echoed in some of the comments from our Rising Leaders, who very clearly and distinctly identified the importance of their families during these times:
I definitely realized that more than ever we have to prioritize averting risks of the effects posed by COVID. That being said, I am pulling hard to set up my family and those around me for tough times like these.
It made me realize that my career was not my priority, but that my family was.
A final RL had similar thoughts:
Put more emphasis on spending time with family
Others spoke to the pandemic affecting where they want to live:
Wanting to live next to family
It’s made me reconsider living across the country from my family
The third and final question where MLT found differences was in helping their community. A plurality of respondents (~35%) responded that this has become somewhat more important to them during the pandemic.
Only one of the open-ended responses spoke directly to this point, which fits given the relative lack of intensity on this issue compared to the other two.
I was thinking about getting my MPH before the pandemic and now I am very seriously thinking about it. Helping my community has always been a top priority for me, but now it is a priority with even more urgency and vigor. I definitely don’t want to be consulting forever. I want to help people more directly and concretely.
I have highlighted the 3 areas where priorities have changed. I now turn to the areas where priorities have not for MLT’s RLs. The first is in prestige, where almost 60% of respondents said they had no change in importance.
Also, there was no change in importance for teleworking after the pandemic, with slightly more respondents saying there was no change in importance with others noting that it was somewhat more important.
It is important to note that there were multiple open-ended responses from working mothers describing how important teleworking has become to them, like this RL:
As a working mother it is nice to see more people around the world getting comfortable with remote working.
This respondent also strongly supported teleworking and indicated that they would be choosing future opportunities based on this benefit:
Definitely has made me realize that telework works and is better for my overall well-being. I would love to move to a model where I work from home 3 days a week and go into the office 2 days a week. It also has made me realize I want to have more of an impact and help people feel better, specifically move into the wellness industry. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of role I would be best served to fill. It also has made me realize what is important (job stability, simple things like food, shelter, love, gratitude) and less focus on career advancement and more focus on making a positive impact in the world.
While I did not ask any follow-up questions to this, the open-ended responses indicate that a significant minority of respondents may have strong preferences for telework. This is especially true among working mothers, so companies looking to recruit women might want to consider this option post-pandemic.
The next area where respondents indicated that their priority hasn’t changed is in compensation, with slightly less than 50% of respondents saying that they are no more or less interested in compensation than they were before the pandemic. It seems as if a stable income is more important to our RLs than increased compensation.
The fourth area where priorities have not changed is whether it is important to make the world a better place. It seems that RLs are primarily focused on their family and community and are not taking a broader look at global impact right now.
Finally, there is a small plurality of respondents who say there is no change in the importance of lifting up people of color with the second most likely response being that it is somewhat more important to fellows.
A couple of fellows offered these as priorities in the open-ended questions, the first showing a shift in focus:
Not much has changed for me but it has definitely encouraged me to want to do more to help people who look like me get to a better place so they are less impacted by things like this.
A second respondent pointed out how laying off Black employees has made this issue more important to them:
During a company layoff, all of the other Black employees were let go, so I feel even more committed to diversity & inclusion initiatives at work.
The first post-COVID survey of MLT Rising Leaders shows some significant shifts in priorities (job stability, desire to help family, desire to help community), and some clear areas where priorities have not shifted (working for a prestigious company, compensation, desire to lift up other people of color, desire to make the world a better place). While most things have stayed the same, these changes offer companies interested in recruiting and retaining underrepresented minorities opportunities to market themselves appropriately and focus their efforts on key areas and shifting scarce resources from less important ones. Obviously, the pandemic is a quickly changing landscape, and MLT plans on monitoring these attitudes over time and examining them in greater depth as time goes on.
Appendix A: Question Wording