Over 860,000 women left the workforce in September of this year — a number four times the rate of men who left the workforce. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, women continue to be disproportionately impacted by the current circumstances. It’s almost as if years of hard-earned gains towards gender equality in the workplace have been completely wiped out. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting or dropping out of the workforce altogether.
Why are they leaving? For one, the persistent wage gap makes it an “obvious” choice on which person should bow out of the workforce. When faced with the current childcare crisis, it makes the most economic sense for the higher-earning family member to continue working, which is often the man in the household. Secondly, the stereotypes that women should be primary caregivers remain present in today’s society. Rita Kakati-Shah, Founder of Uma, states, “Culturally, women are ‘expected’ to perform certain household responsibilities, including making meals, handling children’s education and looking after parents or in-laws…” Women feel obligated to downshift or abandon the workforce to “hold down the fort” and take care of their families.
Why is this a crisis? Women leaving the workforce negatively impacts employers, the economy, and everyone — it is not simply a crisis for women. Having more women and diversity in the workplace directly correlates with higher employee engagement, retention, and stronger financial results. Moreover, abandoning the workforce has grave consequences for women’s overall position in the labor force. The more time spent out of the workforce, the harder it is to rejoin it, and the wider the wage gap will get.
Employers and HR teams can play an impactful role in stopping women from leaving the workforce. We reached out to businesses all over for advice on addressing the crisis, and compiled the best tips below.
Help your female employees maintain a healthy work-home balance, even if they are taking on household responsibilities. Alexandra Zamolo, Head of Content Marketing at Beekeeper states, “Since the pandemic, it’s become obvious that companies with remote workers have seen a rise in productivity… [Offering work-from-home options] lets the women on your team see that you understand their concerns and are working to address them.” Offering scheduling flexibility can make taking on other responsibilities less daunting. “This could mean just allowing them to put in their time during evenings/early mornings/weekends, when they don’t need to be helping their kids with class, or offering the option of shifting to part-time work or taking unpaid time off when they need it,” says Darrell Rosenstein, Founder of The Rosenstein Group.
As a business owner or HR manager, it is your responsibility to incorporate strategies to let female employees know they’re respected and being heard. Sonya Schwartz, Founder of Her Norm, adds, “As for me, the best way to train female employees is to implement workplace activities about women empowerment. This improves relationships with your female employees and boosts their morale.” Invite female speakers to lead seminars, training and events, and help change company culture from within.
Reviewing your development and leadership programs for added opportunities is also key. “Leaders in particular can also start providing mentorship programs. It will give a sense of fulfillment without the feeling of shortage in meaningful work,” states Dan Nolan, Founder at Camping Console.
With working parents pulling overtime at home, HR can play an important role in keeping morale high for both women and men. Employers should be putting policies in place to help support families, protect parents, and mitigate the stress of balancing childcare issues with work. Read more here for tips on how HR can support parents during COVID-19.
As sexism and discrimination continue to run rampant in the office, women and minorities may be discouraged from staying in the workforce. Hosea Chang, COO of Hayden Los Angeles, advises, “We need serious, ongoing, universal and mandatory training for respect in the office. Even microaggressions like interrupting someone when they’re speaking or making sexist jokes can add up to become a frustrating environment for women. We all need to make more of an effort.” Gender training goes beyond legal requirements and can greatly improve retention rates, productivity, and creativity levels.
It’s no secret that the pandemic and lack of job security has caused additional financial stress for most members of the workforce. If your business has the means, a child care stipend could make a huge impact in the lives of your female employees. “Even a partial reimbursement from companies for in-home nursing care, tutors, or nannies can be a huge help in helping employees manage both their time and their finances,” adds Rosenstein.
With women working overtime to keep families afloat, burnout poses a serious threat to mental wellbeing. Amara Ukaigwe, CEO of Book Learn Pass, says, “We’ve introduced a policy of compassionate paid leave for those affected. Managers are now able to offer paid time off to any women suffering from burnout or those struggling to cope with the ‘double shift’.”
The gender wage gap continues to have serious consequences for women in business. According to the American Community Survey, median earnings for women average out to about 80% of earnings for men in the same age group. Though closing the gender pay gap is easier said than done, make sure you are offering competitive and equal pay for women and men in similar positions. Emilija Simic, HR Consultant at TeamStage, states, “Companies that want to keep their female workers should offer competitive pay packages to keep them on the market and retain them for longer.”
Shradha Kumari, HR Manager at Survey Sensum, also emphasizes, “Monetary benefits should be equal for all, regardless of gender. Our company offers equal pay to both men and women and compensates for performance with a very competitive salary.”
Women are often juggling child care, work-related stresses, and other tasks in their day-to-day. Kakati-Shah suggests, “Having mental check-ins, conversations and suggestions to actually help with childcare, housekeeping and meals, would be a step in the right direction.”
Making sure your female employees have a strong grasp on their growth plan also reminds them of their value in the company. Stefani Ribaudo, Chief People Officer at LTV Co., adds, “From my perspective, having strong role models to talk to and look up to is an important way to keep women in your workforce. I do regular skip level meetings with women in management positions or those on career paths aspiring to management…”
Retaining women in the workforce starts from the very minute you begin hiring. Sean Nguyen, Director of Internet Advisor, suggests that businesses ask the following questions, “Are you more likely to hire men over women because they don’t get pregnant? Do you make adjustments and concessions for pregnant employees when they need it? Do you offer maternity leave?” Reviewing your company policies for gaps in the female working experience can greatly improve female retention rates.
Revising your inclusivity policies can make a big difference for women as well. “Review your company’s inclusivity policy to prepare for the diversity of the recruitment pool, and if you don’t have one, implement one as soon as possible,” suggests Scot J Chrisman, Founder and CEO at The Media House
Businesses and HR managers should recognize that providing better resources, support, and empathy for women during this workforce crisis is necessary for a stronger future. Acting now can help mitigate the negative effects of women dropping out of your organization.
For more insights on how HR pros can support businesses and all team members, visit the GoCo Blog.