Pandemic Impact on Women in the Workforce

Written by Denise Gatti – Diversity Consultant

For all the wonderful recognition of women this month, a bleak picture is lurking.  Since the pandemic began, 2.5million women have exited the workforce –that’s enough to fill 40 of our empty stadiums – compared with 1.8 million men according to unemployment records. Out of the women still in the workforce, 1 in 4 are now considering voluntarily leaving or downshifting their careers.  The pandemic created an increased burden of care for our households and the people living in them, and among heterosexual couples, the responsibility has fallen mostly to women. The stress on women of color is even greater, more than half of whom are their families’ primary or sole breadwinners.

The loss of women in the workplace moves us in the wrong direction – backwards- as the gender gap continues to widen. Vice President Kamala Harris describes the situation as a “national emergency” that impacts families, society and our economy.

What can business leaders do?

Retain the women you have and remember women who left

  • Good communication is always crucial to retain and engage employees.  This can be difficult because so many women feel it necessary to hide their childcare struggles. It may not be your favorite subject, so start by asking about her work from home situation.  Listen more than give advice, time to vent allows her to find solutions  Clarifying priorities and re-assessing goals can ease the sense of being overwhelmed and help both of you agree on how work will be measured.
  • Flexible work arrangements and designated working / off the clock time, may provide relief for some women but not for others. Ask for input around meeting schedules, and ensure the atmosphere is comfortable for women to speak up and request times when she can participate without distraction.  Job sharing or temporary reductions in hours may be better solutions for others. 
  • Keep those on leave engaged by letting her know she is not forgotten. Her daily contributions may be on hold but not her career. Include women on leave for promotional opportunities – providing a motivation to return to the workplace. Balance keeping connected with email check-ins and giving her space to focus on family and personal demands.  Give her the option to be included in company social virtual events.  Having access to the company internet can help her to stay informed. 
  • Retrain by creating “sabbaticals” where an employee could take a paid / partially paid leave and be developing new skills on their own schedule.  Online programs provide the opportunity to participate in training, conferences or pursue college or certificate programs.  
  • Reduce Childcare and household concerns by communicating clearly with employees regarding their pre-tax childcare funds and your plan. If your company had childcare onsite prior to the pandemic, are there ways to safely restore the services on a limited basis, such as outdoors? Some companies have provided online tutors for school age children.  Think creatively of perks such as a “company picnic” with family meals that can be picked up. 
  • Rehire women who have left as soon as possible, and consider moving them into different roles, especially if they’ve developed new skills.  Retraining a “known” employee is always easier and cheaper than hiring someone new.

Interestingly, greater support for work flexibility and helping women stay and grow in their careers is also good for fathers!  This might also help shift some of the burden women feel during this pandemic and beyond.  What is good for women, is good for everyone.

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