- Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2 million women have left the U.S. workforce.
- Gender equality has taken a backseat, with troubling consequences for working mothers.
- These 4 strategies can help companies take a positive approach toward getting women back into the workforce.
Approximately 2.2 million women have left the U.S. workforce since the start of the pandemic.
This exodus represents a huge step backwards in improving gender parity in the workplace, especially since many of these women (particularly mothers) do not plan to rejoin the workforce.
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it’s time for everyone to turn their attention to how we can help bring women back into the workforce.
Why Women Have Left the Workforce
While it’s easy to blame the COVID-19 pandemic, the reasons women have left the workforce run much deeper than that.
Women, especially working mothers and caregivers, have had no choice but to leave their jobs or reduce their work hours as they balance work, childcare, and schooling responsibilities. As if that weren’t enough, physical distancing recommendations required that many mothers forgo help even from family.
Women have borne the brunt of the pandemic and there seems to be no end in sight.
A Look at the Facts and Figures
A survey from FlexJobs found that:
- 40% of working parents had to make changes to their jobs.
- 25% of them voluntarily reduced their working hours.
- 15% quit their jobs.
- 5% said their partner reduced their hours or quit their job.
- 38% of those who quit say they do not plan to rejoin the workforce.
According to the research, the situation is worse for women than it is for men. The same FlexJobs survey also found that:
- 63% of working mothers report they primarily handled childcare duties, while only 42% of fathers reported the same.
- 80% of working mothers said they took the lead on remote learning versus 31% of working fathers.
- 17% of working mothers quit their jobs during the pandemic — nearly 1 in 5, vs 10% of working fathers who reported the same thing – 1 in 10.
A study published in July, 2020 found that “mothers scaled back their work hours by about 5 per cent (two hours a week), while fathers’ work hours remained largely stable.” This study concluded that, “the pandemic has increased gender inequality in the labour force with troubling consequences for mothers.”
Studies have found that women are shouldering up to several hours of additional care work per day. It has fallen upon women’s shoulders to supervise their kids’ remote learning; to cook, to clean, and to act as primary caregivers.
Women have been left with little choice — and the pay gap is somewhat to blame. Given that women still earn less than men, economically speaking, it makes sense for a family that the mother leave her job vs the father.
For many, it feels as if we are back in the 1980s. And that feeling is not far off from the truth… the share of women in the workforce is down to levels not seen since 1988.
4 Strategies to Bring Women Back into the Workforce
To ensure that women’s progress in the workforce isn’t set back even more, companies need to start thinking about and implementing ways in which they can attract women back into the workforce.
1. Offer Flexibility
This is likely the easiest strategy companies can implement to bring women back into the workforce. Allowing women to set their own schedules and giving them some flexibility in their working hours can help them better balance their home and work responsibilities.
Rather than requiring women to be in front of the computer from 9 to 5, even when they’re working from home, allowing them to work during odd hours or in split shifts can be the determining factor on whether they return to work or not.
2. Be More Accepting of Gap Years
This is now more important than ever. Billions of people have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many have been unemployed for over 12 months.
A 2019 survey found that “applicants with work gaps have a 45% lower chance of receiving job interviews.”
With so many forced to exit the workforce over the past 18 months, accepting gap years will be critical to encouraging women to rejoin the workforce in the post-pandemic workplace. At the end of the day, efforts need to focus on eliminating barriers that could prevent or discourage women from going back to work. Assuring them that they will not be turned away for a gap year is a first step in the right direction in ensuring that your company receives applications from women.
3. Offer Learning Opportunities
When someone leaves the workforce, they stop putting their professional skills to practice. In a year like the past one where things changed so quickly, many skills become obsolete while new skills are highly in demand. Offering learning and upskilling opportunities can help women feel more comfortable going back to work, therefore making them more likely to apply for a job.
4. Offer on-Site Childcare and Extend Parental Leave Policies
Child care is among the leading causes why women leave the workforce in general. When women decide to have kids, many end up sacrificing their careers.
Offering on-site childcare can help working mothers in a variety of ways:
- It makes access to child care more affordable.
- It eliminates part of their commute, which can reduce a source of stress.
- It allows parents to spend more time with their children during the day.
Extended parental leave policies, for their part, can help companies retain female talent as women will not be faced with the choice to pick children or their careers.
“U.S. states that have implemented paid-leave policies found a 20 percent reduction in the number of female employees leaving their jobs in the first year after giving birth—and up to a 50 percent reduction after five years.”
The time has come for companies to support female employees. Companies that make it easy for women to return to the workforce will not only help reverse the damage caused in gender equality by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they will also experience benefits in terms of hiring, costs, and reaching diversity and inclusion goals.