From businesses permanently closing to workers being laid off for months at a stretch, the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt everyone. Professional working women have arguably suffered the worst over the past two years.
In fact, 1.8 million women in the United States left the workforce during COVID-19. Economists actually pointed out how the number is closer to 2.3 million if you take into account the growth rate of the pre-pandemic labor force.
Decades of progress in workforce equity were suddenly lost in a matter of months. Companies are now discussing what recruiting tactics can help bring women back to the workforce.
Learn the reasons why women left the workforce and the recruitment techniques that may help them return:
Why Did Women Leave the Workforce?
Maintaining a work-life balance was the main reason women left the workforce during the pandemic.
Schools and daycares closed or limited their hours during the quarantine. Working mothers had to decide between taking on more tasks at work or caring for their children at home.
Eighty percent of women across 10 countries said their workloads increased as a result of the pandemic. This same survey of 5,000 women also found that 66% took on more responsibilities at home.
COVID-19 exposed many existing weaknesses and problems in the labor market. For too long they had been ignored while business was good, but now there’s a struggle to get workers back.
Besides childcare and family responsibilities, many professional women cited non-inclusive behaviors such as discrimination, pay gaps, and toxic work environments.
The Dangers of Women Leaving the Workforce
What’s being nicknamed the “She-cession” will cause long-term inequities. The gender pay gap will continue to widen, and it’ll be harder for women to climb the corporate ladder.
About 25% of corporate women recently said they’re thinking about downshifting or leaving the workforce all together. They have been forced to shift their priorities.
Researchers have also found this trend is hitting LGBTQ+ employees and women of color harder than other demographics, making workplace diversity even harder to sustain.
Companies need women in the office. A return to the 1960s Mad Men-esque model isn’t good for anyone. Having gender diversity helps companies access a broader range of talents, offers multiple perspectives for problem solving, enhance office collaborations, and have a staff that reflects the customers they’re serving.
Gender diverse companies are even 21% more likely to have “above average” profitability.
Recruiting Tactics To Bring Women Back
Help may be on the way from the government. U.S. President Joe Biden has tagged $650 billion for childcare programs, universal pre-K, and to establish a paid family and medical leave program. This proposal is being considered by Congress. If it passes, it could have a significant effect on the recruitment of women.
A large investment in childcare could pave the way for working mothers to return to the office. Offering FMLA—whether paid or unpaid—will ensure that a woman’s job is protected in a medical emergency and that she can continue accessing her health benefits.
Companies can reflect many of the policies being debated in Congress and perhaps go a step further to recover some of the lost ground.
They can develop programs that transition female workers back into the office and invest in more skills training to ensure they aren’t falling behind. Some companies are even offering childcare on site or providing working mothers with a stipend.
Recruiter bias is another significant hurdle in overcoming this crisis. Less weight should be given to gap years on a resume, especially if it’s related to the pandemic, and an effort should be made to gather a more diverse candidate pool for open positions.
Implementing these strategies is a positive step toward workplace diversity in general, regardless of whether the job candidates were affected by the pandemic.
Getting Women Back to Work
Losing so many women in the workforce is troubling but these recruiting tactics could help companies bring them back while ensuring more diverse work spaces.
What else could help alleviate the “She-cession?” A major cultural shift in which women are not the only ones responsible for a majority of childcare and household management would ease burdens.
Companies won’t be able to change this cultural issue through their hiring practices alone, but it’s important to consider the broader context of why so many women left the workforce in the first place.
What they can do is guarantee a work-life balance for all employees.
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