One of the startling realities of the pandemic is the profound effect it’s had on women in the workforce. Women made up 54% of overall job losses throughout the pandemic, with nearly 3 million women leaving the labor force — a display of the disproportionate burdens placed on women like lower pay, childcare responsibilities, and elderly care. According to data from Mckinsey, jobs held by women are 19% more at risk than jobs held by men because women represent a majority in industries that have been most affected by the pandemic.
While last month women drove 70% of job gains, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on how Americans split their time last year revealed that mothers of young children spent about eight hours a day on childcare, in addition to six hours of work. Conversely, fathers spent around five hours on childcare and eight hours on work. With childcare acting as a full-time job for women, it’s no wonder that we’d need nearly five straight months of job gains similar to July to return to pre-pandemic employment levels for women.
So how can you make your organization more supportive and inclusive of women? Here are some tips.
This is the single biggest contributor to women leaving the workforce. Flexibility comes in many forms: while offering remote opportunities is a great way to attract mothers and working women, it’s not feasible for some industries. So look at other ways your organization can enforce flexibility, like paid time off, paid sick days, mental health days, and autonomy.
And if you are able to offer remote work, help your employees establish healthy work-life boundaries, and lead by example. It’s okay to have an occasional late night of work, but save messages and requests to your staff for business hours so they don’t feel like they have to always be available.
Check Your Biases
Understanding that everyone has biases is important, and making sure your job descriptions, hiring process, and promotion decisions are as unbiased as possible is an essential part of attracting and keeping women around.
When it comes to phrasing for your job descriptions, leave out any gender pronouns. Use phrasing such as “this person will” or “this employee should” so that there’s no insinuation of who would fill your positions. As you run individuals through your hiring process, keep the structure as regimented as possible. If you have a group interview for one candidate, make sure that’s what each candidate receives.
And post-hire, it’s especially important to keep your biases in check. Throughout the pandemic, men have been promoted three times more than women and men have received raises at double the rate of women. Despite studies showing that teams with a significant female executive presence drive higher revenues, increase client satisfaction rates and support better performance overall, this is the frustrating reality that companies need to address.
Focus on Mental Health
While this will benefit your entire staff, it’s important to take initiative and encourage your employees to prioritize their mental health. Offer paid mental health days where employees can choose a day each month to take time for themselves, share mental health resources company-wide, and check in with your team regarding burnout and general workload issues and stressors.
Make adjustments when it’s needed, too. It’s one thing to ask if workloads are too intense, but to actually take the first step and say “let’s take some things off your plate, I know it’s been a crazy week,” will mean a lot to your employees. Just because we are nearly two years into the pandemic doesn’t mean we’ve adjusted to it, so don’t keep pre-pandemic expectations as your standard for good work.
Provide Open Communication & Access to Leadership
Maintaining open communication with your team makes it easy for individuals to come to you when they are struggling. But it also keeps everyone in the loop about important changes and decisions that can affect their day-to-day work. Mckinsey found that a predictive factor that can cause women to decide to leave the workforce was feeling blindsided by decisions that ultimately affect their jobs. A separate study by Mckinsey and LeanIn showed that women are 24% less likely to be offered advice from a senior leader than men. With open lines of communication, this can be avoided so your staff always feels like they understand and align with the business outcomes, and have easy and equal access to senior leadership.
On a weekly basis at Hireology, we host all-company meetings where we report on how we’re tracking to our goals, meetings with our smaller teams to report on projects, and each team member has one-on-one meetings with their managers to ensure they have time for questions and feedback. These meetings help us to better see how our individual jobs lead up to the broader company goals, and give us plenty of opportunities to communicate with leadership.
This may feel small, but employee recognition is extremely important. Not only does it promote a positive work environment, it’s also what leads to promotions. Create a culture of support at your workplace by initiating and encouraging public recognition. This should be done frequently and should be a mix of small — like a shoutout in a team Slack — and big initiatives — like a quarterly or yearly monetary prize. The balance of both will help with open communication, as well, and will keep your employees feeling valued and motivated.
Play Your Part in Closing the Wage Gap
It’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge the wage gap that exists between men and women when talking about why women are leaving the workforce at a significantly higher rate. In many cases, it financially makes more sense for a woman to step back from her job to care for family members than a man because on average, women earn 84% of what men earn. This gap only widens when race is taken into account, with Black women making 63%, 60% for Native American women, and Latinx women making just 55% compared to men.
This disparity has to be acknowledged in order for it to be corrected, so look at your company’s pay scale and take steps to shrink the gap. This requires setting realistic goals for your organization, running pay audits to find out where discrepancies lie, and being transparent around salaries and goals.
If you want to get women to stick around — which you do, because women leaving the workforce is costing the economy $650 billion every year — you have to start by addressing the issues internally that may be contributing to women leaving or not rejoining the workforce. Your organization can greatly benefit from following these guidelines across the board in general retention as well, so implement these ASAP.