March 3, 2022
In 2020, McKinsey and LeanIn.Org’s Women in the Workforce study revealed that one in four women were considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the impact of COVID-19. As primary care providers, many women found themselves burnt out by the increasingly blurred lines between their personal and professional lives.
Since 2020, these considerations have become a reality; throughout 2021, 3.5 million women left the workforce. Recent reports of the job market imply a strong recovery for 2022, but the story shifts when considering the rate of women vs men returning to work. Whereas men have regained all of the jobs lost since February 2020, 1.1 million women who left the workforce have yet to return.
The pandemic has also worsened the gender pay gap, in large part because many that are returning to the workforce are taking pay cuts as penalties for leaves of absence. Even for female executives, the disparity in pay is at its widest since 2012.
At the current rate, it could take another three decades to achieve gender parity in the workforce. In the meantime, the loss of so many women from the workforce has already caused an estimated $800 billion in losses to the U.S. economy. Studies have shown again and again that companies with higher levels of women (and specifically, women in leadership) outperform their competitors. So, what can your company do now to accommodate women’s priorities and needs, end the She-Cession, and support the She-covery?
Gaps in resumes have traditionally been viewed as deal breakers when reviewing candidates, but companies that continue to dismiss candidates who took time off will be inadvertently removing strong female candidates from the process. Whether you’re manually sourcing or using tech tools to find candidates, ensure female candidates aren’t being penalized for taking time off over the past few years.
Instead, look at the gap as an opportunity to learn more about the candidate. What was their experience, pre-pandemic, and why are they interested in returning to work now? Many women will be looking to completely shift careers upon returning to work, so keep an open mind when reviewing resumes and applications. Of course, writing inclusive job descriptions and outreach emails will also help to engage more female candidates.
Think about the last time you started a new job, or even just came back to work after a week-long vacation. The feeling of having so much to catch up on is overwhelming. Coming back to work after months or years can be extremely intimidating. Create plans that offer flexibility and visibility into how women (and anyone that took a long hiatus) can return to work in a way that makes them comfortable.
How do you make it easier? Consider:
Setting up returnships, which are exactly what they sound like – internships for those who have come back to work. Returnships typically provide additional training and support. As The Muse points out, it’s equally important to retrain team members on your culture and values as it is to bring them up-to-speed on skills.
Encourage breaks to prevent burnout. Is your company one that expects email or Slack responses outside of normal work hours? Bringing more women back to work will mean setting boundaries – for the individual, and for the organization. One way to bring more balance is creating internal communication guidelines with examples of urgent vs. non-urgent communications, and how they should each be handled.
Provide & promote mental health resources. Companies are investing in additional perks, like access to meditation apps and free counseling sessions, that encourage mental wellness, both at and outside of work. Women are 25% more likely than men to report feeling uncomfortable sharing their thoughts on sensitive issues or work-life challenges with coworkers, so don’t underestimate the power of having an open, empathetic culture.
Women need to be able to come back to work comfortably and securely, while still knowing they can be there for loved ones. Consider adding or expanding your benefits like:
Remote or hybrid work. The opportunity to work remotely, for those who want to, is key to women regaining a work-life balance. Surveys from earlier this year indicate the workers report being more productive in a remote setting and they’ve experienced improvement in their overall mental and physical wellbeing.
Flexible work schedules. If the pandemic underscored one thing, it’s that women are still the primary caretakers for most families. However, women are also twice as likely as men to worry that taking time off for caretaking will impact on how their performance is judged. Allowing women to work around their family commitments, without fear that they’ll be viewed critically for doing so, will give them the opportunity to find the times that are most productive for them.
Childcare / caretaking assistance. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace study found that 76% of mothers with young children said that childcare was one of their top three challenges during COVID-19, as opposed to 54% of fathers. In addition to flexible work schedules, companies are stepping up by partnering with local childcare providers for regular childcare options and for backup care programs. Paid leave programs for caretakers are also trending to ensure women have the stability they need to focus on caring for loved ones when needed.
Financial/Retirement planning. 85% of women control their family’s day-to-day finances. Those that left the workforce in recent years now face an increased pay gay and less stability with their retirement savings. Make retirement and financial planning resources available to them like webinars, courses, and consultants so that women can regain control of their financial futures.
The recession caused by COVID-19 is expected to widen the gender pay gap by five percent. Pre-pandemic, men were already more likely to ask for higher pay, and 7% more successful in negotiating for higher pay. Salary disparities are even worse for women of color. Companies can combat these discrepancies by implementing pay transparency, which will give women more leverage to ensure their wages are in line with their male counterparts.
Some states have already imposed salary transparency laws. For companies in other states, consider this: 58% of employees say they would consider switching jobs for more pay transparency. A perceived pay gap also results in a decreased desire to stay at a job. If you want to bring women into the workforce (and keep them), it’s in your company’s best interests to ensure they’re compensated fairly.
Seven out of 10 women who experienced negative shifts in their routine as a result of COVID-19 believe that their career progression will slow down. Employers can build back women’s confidence in themselves and their careers by providing programs and resources that support professional development like:
Mentorship and networking opportunities. Call upon your current female leaders to reach out to women re-entering the workforce to set goals and develop skills. This will help newly employed women establish a foundation as they restart their careers, and it will help the organization foster future leaders.
Make reskilling and upskilling the norm. Provide budgets for professional development conferences or courses, and encourage team members to pursue them on a regular basis, once a year or even quarterly.
Establish transparency with what a woman’s goals actually are – and what they aren’t. Many women coming back to work left because of burnout; pushing more responsibility or training on them quickly or without warning may lead to a similar result. Present them with realistic expectations based on where they are at today, not pre-pandemic.
Bottom line: Two-thirds of women plan to return to work, but they need to be empowered with the right resources, policies and support. Investing in bringing women back into the workforce now will help to end the She-Cession quicker, increase retention and upward mobility among women, and ensure women have a stronger work/life balance in the future.
Check out Fetcher’s other blog posts for more talent acquisition tips and insights into recruiting trends.
At Fetcher, our mission is to introduce companies to the people who will help them change the world. Our full-service, recruiting automation platform automates those repetitive, top-of-funnel tasks, so you can focus more on candidate engagement & team collaboration. Simplify Sourcing. Optimize Outreach. Hire Top Talent. Learn more at fetcher.ai.
Recruiting Life, Recruiting Strategies