We are so happy to share with you our article published in Forbes Tech Council. Hope you will find it useful.
Millions of women have left the US labor force since the start of the pandemic. And although it looks like the world is back to normal now, the numbers show that not all of these women have gone back to work. The National Women's Law Center analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics reports and found out that over 1 million fewer women were in the workforce in January 2022 compared to February 2020.
But we cannot blame everything on the pandemic. The truth is, the COVID crisis only revealed deeper problems with gender equality, biases, and gender pay gaps across all industries. Thus, organizations have to address these issues to bring more women back into the workforce. And in this article, we will discuss how companies can approach this task.
Why Women Left the Workforce
To better understand what we should change in work environments, we need to have a broader context of why so many women left their jobs in the first place. And although there were many different reasons for such a massive exodus, here are the most significant ones:
- Many women worked in industries that were hit hard by the pandemic. For example, in 2019, female employees made up more than half of all workers in leisure and hospitality. And many of their jobs simply stopped existing after the coronavirus outbreak.
- Many women were forced to drastically reduce their working hours or quit their jobs entirely to take care of children or elderly family members. That is because balancing work and home responsibilities with daycare centers closed and school underway remotely became unsustainable.
- Considering that most women earn less than men, for many families, it made more sense financially that the mother leave her job to act as the primary caregiver and supervise their kids' remote learning, not the father.
With those reasons in mind, we can start thinking about strategies to change workplaces so that women would be willing to come back. But first, let’s take a moment to reflect on why gender equality at work matters so much.
Why Do Companies Need Women in Teams?
Equal representation of women in the workplace helps enhance teams' productivity, provides alternative perspectives on problems, and improves collaboration between team members. Besides that, it brings a company more money. According to the McKinsey report, companies with more-diverse teams are 21 percent more likely to reach above-average profitability.
Another good reason to have more women in the workplace is that gender diversity makes an organization a better place to work. Studies confirm that companies with more female employees benefit from more job satisfaction and less burnout among workers of all genders. And improved staff retention means significant savings in terms of time and money spent on recruitment.
These findings demonstrate that organizations without strong women representation are missing opportunities to access a broader range of talents, become more profitable, and have more engaged and satisfied employees. Therefore, it is crucial that businesses proactively make workplace changes to ensure that no more female employees will leave and those who left earlier will come back.
Five Things Organizations Need to Do to Bring Women Back into the Workforce
Strategies to attract more women to the workplace are not too difficult to implement. Here is a brief overview of some of them.
#1 Allow more flexibility.
This is likely the easiest strategy to implement for many companies. If the nature of the job does not require being in front of the computer from 9 to 5, then allow employees to decide when and where work gets done. The ability to set their schedule will let female employees balance their home and work responsibilities better. So, instead of choosing between their professional and personal lives, they will be able to return to the workplace with the confidence that they can have both.
#2 Eliminate bias.
With so many people forced to quit their jobs during the pandemic, you will inevitably have applicants with employment gaps in their resumes. So, it is essential to address the negative stigma associated with career breaks and make sure that such candidates are not discriminated against. Train your recruiters and hiring managers to be aware of their conscious and unconscious biases. They need to learn to look at each candidate uniquely, review their experience prior to any break in work, evaluate their transferable skills, and focus more on overall job-person fit.
#3 Do not ignore the gender pay gap.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, women's median earnings were 83.1 percent of men's earnings. So, the pay gap is still far from closing. And if we want to encourage more women to reenter the workforce, it is imperative to focus on equal compensation for work of equal value. Conduct pay equity audits regularly and make sure all employees of similar experience and in similar roles are paid the same regardless of their gender or race.
#4 Consider launching a return-to-work program.
Another great way to support women's return to the workforce is through return-to-work programs, or “returnships.” These programs are quite similar to internships, but they are specifically designed for people who have been out of work for a significant amount of time. Returnships can last from a couple of weeks to several months and usually include training and upskilling, career coaching sessions, and support from a peer network. Need some inspiration? Take a look at return-to-work programs at Accenture, Microsoft, IBM, or HubSpot.
#5 Provide learning and growing opportunities.
One of the recent studies shows that nine out of every 10 tech employees would like to get more learning and development opportunities in their company. Moreover, 58 percent of respondents named skill development among the top criteria when selecting a new company to work for. So, if you want to create a workplace where professionals of all genders want to stay, it is imperative to provide enough educational opportunities for your employees. And keep in mind that, given the responsibilities women typically have both at work and home, they are likely to prefer flexible programs that can be completed online at their own pace.
Of course, there are more things companies can do to support their female employees: paid leave policies, career coaching programs, mental-health sessions, on-site childcare facilities, etc. The important part is to get started, evaluate the impact of your initiatives, and adjust any idea to your company's specific needs.
Hopefully, the pandemic will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The lessons we have learned, however, can help businesses build stronger teams, improve diversity in the workplace, and retain top talent both now and in the future.