How Employers Can Fight the “She-cession” and Return Women to the Workforce

Jan 6, 2022

We’ve all seen that the Coronavirus pandemic is still raging, especially with the emergence of the Omicron variant. Companies nationwide are facing workforce shortages and large   among employees. Recent polls show that 94% of employers are having difficulty hiring and retaining staff, and 53% would classify the situation as severe. These issues will continue to have a significant impact on our economy in 2022.

As companies review their retention, training, and recruiting processes to look for solutions, one common issue stands. In January 2020, women outnumbered men in the United States workforce. By December 2020, nearly 90% of jobs lost were previously filled by women. Black women in particular have been hit hard by this recession. This is likely due to the pandemic’s hardest-hit industries–leisure, hospitality, and retail–which are largely women-dominated. It’s estimated that the economy has lost $64.5 billion in women’s wages and spending.

On top of the 11 million women who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, 2.5 million women since March 2020 have “chosen” to leave their jobs. This mass workforce exodus is being dubbed the “she-cession,” a term coined by C Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). These women account for more than half of the over 4 million people who have not returned to the workforce.

What’s more, women aren’t as likely to be exploring coming back to work yet. The number of women looking for work hasn’t seen such low levels since December 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

Why More Women Left Their Jobs During the Pandemic

The emphasis on “chosen” above is purposeful. The reasons these women left their jobs did not provide much of a choice; leaving was more of a necessity. Dealing with responsibilities at home traditionally falls to women, even in the 2020s. Even if couples decide to have the person with the lower-paying job leave the workforce, it’s usually the woman because of the gender pay gap.

When the country entered lockdown in March 2020 and schools scrambled to implement online learning, women were expected to step up. Less flexible workplaces forced a choice: keep working or take care of your kids. But even employees who were afforded the necessary remote work opportunities struggled to make the same decision. Many women trying to juggle full-time work and childcare felt as though they were failing at both.

One could argue that wealthier families could afford childcare even while working remotely. But in the Northern Virginia-DC-Maryland region, childcare costs are among the highest in the country. It actually costs less to send a child to college with in-state tuition than it does to pay for an infant in daycare.

It’s not just childcare that forced women to quit, however. More than 40 million people provide unpaid eldercare in the United States, and 58% of those are women. Even if they were to pay for eldercare, the costs vary wildly depending on the type of care needed and the amount of assistance provided.

General burnout has also contributed to women’s departure from the workforce. Traditionally shouldering more than their share of household responsibilities has driven some women to accept defeat and give up on their careers.

Regardless of the reasons they left, we MUST re-engage these women in the workforce.

What Employers Can Do to Encourage Women to Return to the Workforce

Having left the workforce voluntarily, these 2.5 million women now have concerns about how to return to the workforce and whether they will be able to catch up to their previous ranks and salaries. For every 100 men promoted to management, 86 women are promoted to the same roles. This gender gap could continue to widen given the higher numbers of women who left the workforce during the pandemic.

At Employment Enterprises, we are encouraging our clients to take the following steps to reach and engage these women.

  • Embrace hybrid and remote work options.
    Many women are anxious to return to work only to face the same issues of balancing work and outside responsibilities. Offering flexible positions will relieve those fears and empower these women to join your team. If you don’t show empathy and support flexible work arrangements, women will take note. They will transfer to new jobs or careers to obtain this flexibility or simply optout of the workforce for a longer timeframe.
  • Reconsider job requirements like college degrees and extra certifications.
    While it’s true that female students now represent 59.5% of all college attendees, it will take years to see those women in the workforce. Not all women who left the workforce have the opportunity to go to (or return to) school. Employers should consider providing internal training or online skills-building programs to reach more candidates.
  • Speed up the recruiting timeframe.
    The tide is turning in the job market, and it is no longer acceptable to have three interviews and take a month to hire. Candidates aren’t willing to wait that long even for their dream employer. Establish a concise hiring process and pull from an existing pipeline of qualified candidates. Be ready to make an offer quickly when you find the top talent you seek.
  • Evaluate the wages and benefits offered.
    If there is a disconnect between the job description and the actual work being performed, wage discrepancies may occur. It’s a best practice to re-evaluate your salary structure at least once each year, and now is a great time to do so. Make sure you also review your compensation packages annually and provide impactful benefits. Women in particular are mindful of the extras that will provide for their families.
  • Prioritize diversity .
    Look far and wide to attract candidates from all arenas. The more training you can provide to candidates from varying backgrounds, the more diverse your teams will be. Mentoring and coaching are especially impactful benefits to bring in women of color and those whose return to work requires a new skill set.
  • Empower women to take part in decision-making and provide input on business matters.
    To bring women back into the workforce, we need to have hard conversations about fulfillment, potential, and influence. Giving more women seats at the table will encourage honest feedback about obstacles to staying on the job. That insight will lead to huge benefits for both employees and their employers in 2022.
Written by: Sarah Perlman

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