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How to Get Women to Reenter the Workforce

June 25, 2021

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Women have borne the brunt of the adverse impact of the pandemic.  It has been estimated that more than three million women have left the workforce.  According to a survey by TopResume, 69% of working mothers plan to remain out of work to care for their children.  Of the mothers who left the workforce during COVID, 70% said they voluntarily left to accommodate their children, and 30% said they were laid off. “The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on people’s careers, but no one has been hit harder than working mothers,” Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume, said in a release. “This is a grim outlook for employers who are ramping up for a post-pandemic workplace.”

Another report shows that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely because of the impact of COVID-19.  “As many as 2 million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving the workforce altogether,” warns Women in the Workplace, the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America by McKinsey.

The report also found that “Women—especially women of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. The pandemic has intensified challenges that women already faced. Working mothers have always worked a “double shift”—a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household labor.”

Further, the report finds that “[a]s a result of these dynamics, more than one in four women are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable just six months ago: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. This is an emergency for corporate America. Companies risk losing women in leadership—and future women leaders—and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity.”

Interestingly enough, the survey provides an anecdote that clearly demonstrates this slide back.  An Asian American woman and senior manager with two children aged one and five told the study, “There were times when I said to my husband, ‘One of us is going to have to quit our job.’ And I remember thinking, ‘How come I’m the only one thinking about this, and my husband isn’t?’ I don’t think him leaving was ever in question.”

To punctuate this situation, just 14% of working mothers are actively searching for new employment, TopResume found.

As job openings greatly exceed the number of workers looking, this talent crunch will slow down many organizations who do not have the talent to pick up the loss of these workers.  For those employers serious about diversity efforts, this now becomes a time to step up.  What can employers do to bring women back to their workforce?

First, women need flexible work schedules and robust benefits to accommodate the demands of parenting, says Priya Amin, founder of Flexable, a virtual childcare benefit provider.  Moreover, men should be encouraged to participate in parenting and provided the same opportunities as women so women are not looked at as the ones who have to quit the workforce, while men are stigmatized as lesser workers when they participate in the family responsibilities.

Second, women should not be penalized in their career for parenting or being a primary caregiver if working part-time.  Their career paths should not be delayed simply because they are a mother.  A and McKinsey & Company covering data for 2014-2019 found that for every 100 men that are promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired.  When it gets to the C-Suite, 21% are women.  Further, research has found  that women often have to provide more evidence of their competence to be seen as equally skilled as their male counterparts. When compared to men, women are held to higher standards and have to do more to prove themselves than men.

Moreover, employers should recalibrate the career path to allow for performance, whether full or part-time, as the basis for the promotion.  In addition, employers need to train their managers to understand that most women do not self-promote or do not self-promote well.  Performance measures should be equally applied, and employees, not just managers, need to be mentored and trained how to prepare and provide information for the performance review. 

As a corollary, employers need to focus on the benefits needs of these employees and prepare to create new plans that provide the flexibility that familial employees need.

And finally, the issue of unconscious bias needs to be addressed directly throughout the management ranks to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equally, so that assumptions are not driving performance appearances, and thus reviews. 

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