The pandemic affected us all—but it didn’t affect us all the same way.
Across the board, female employees were hit substantially harder. In February 2021, about half the women in the US were out of work. That’s because many of them were laid off or had to leave their job in order to help with homeschooling kids or take care of family members who got sick. From February 2020 to February 2021, 2.4 million women left the labor force, compared to 1.8 million men.
Are all these women reentering the workforce in 2022?
Sadly, no—not all of them. And those who do, are reevaluating their careers.
According to a Metlife survey, almost two in three (63%) women who left the workforce during the pandemic say they are ready to return. But lots of them are considering a career change. And amid those who are currently working, dissatisfaction with their current job seems to become more and more of a norm, especially amid women in upper management positions.
A new Qualtrics trends report on 14,000 employees found that female senior leaders intent to stay at their current job decreased by 21 points from last year.
When you take race into consideration, those numbers get even more significant. A gender gap report on multicultural women in the workplace shows that about 50% of them are thinking about leaving their jobs in the next two years because both their gender and their race make it harder to advance.
It’s clear that to secure the future of women in the workplace, there’s a lot of work to be done. Women returning to work in 2022 will need increased company support than in previous years, in order to stay and thrive at their jobs.
If you’re thinking of creating returnship programs for female employees in 2022, or wondering how to best support your female employees, it’s time to start making a plan—and putting it in action.
Why offer support
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: offering more support to female employees does not mean you’re “favoring” them over employees who don’t identify as such. In an ideal world, all employees, regardless of gender identity, sexuality, race, or religious denomination, would have equal chances and opportunities.
But as the numbers mentioned earlier clearly show, we don’t live in this ideal world yet.
Simply following your regular hiring and management processes won’t be enough to help women in the workplace in 2022. For women returning to work this new year, the difficulties will be many. If they lost their jobs or had to stop working because of the pandemic, they may lack the confidence to get back in the game. And if they’ve been out of work for quite some time or contemplating a career change, they may be lacking some essential skills compared to other candidates.
And it’s not just the effects of the pandemic you need to take into consideration. If anything, what the pandemic did was to unearth some of the pre-existing, unresolved issues around women inequality in the workplace.
What are some of these issues?
For instance, the fact that women took on more “invisible work” during the pandemic, from unpaid labor like housework to volunteer work and extra responsibilities for their companies—often with no recognition for it.
Or, the fact that lots of women (53%) don’t feel comfortable talking to their supervisors about experiencing burnout, fearing they’ll seem incapable of doing their jobs. Similarly, women are less likely than men to ask for more time when working under adjustable deadlines.
All these things factor into increasing stress levels and the possibility of burnout among female employees. And if we don’t change our approach toward hiring women, what we expect from them, and how we empower them to communicate their struggles, these issues will stay unresolved.
Simply getting women through the door won’t cut it either. Female employees are not just looking for any kind of job, but for jobs that will allow them to grow, pursue, and eventually get leadership roles. According to the 2021 Women in Tech Report by TrustRadius, promotions and mentorship opportunities are the two top ways employers can support the advancement of women in the workplace.
This can only happen if we create truly equal workplaces—and we need to actively support women in order to achieve that.
How to support women in the workplace
Now that we’ve covered the “why” your company should actively help the women reentering the workforce, let’s talk about the “how”.
Here are some ways you can support your female employees in action:
Offer returnship programs
From Microsoft to Accenture and from J.P. Morgan to Amazon, many companies are investing in returnship programs for 2022. Returnship programs are similar to internships or apprenticeships, but for employees who have had a gap in their resume due to the pandemic, or who generally had to stay off work for a while.
These programs, which usually last from a few weeks to a few months, can be a great way to help women returning to work get the confidence and new skills they may be lacking.
Support women with training and reskilling
Of course, employee training is always a good idea. But especially in the era of The Great Resignation, with employees leaving their jobs at record numbers, focusing on training and reskilling will accomplish two things:
First, it will show your female employees that you are willing to invest in them and help them grow. And second, it will provide a sense of security at a time when so many roles and company requirements have shifted due to the pandemic.
Allow for flexible work models
In a recent TalentLMS & Workable survey about the Great Resignation, one of the top reasons stated for wanting to quit a job in the IT/Tech industry was the lack of flexibility in working hours. Accordingly, flexibility and remote work options were among the top criteria employees look out for when selecting a company to work for.
This is even more crucial when it comes to female employees. Early data from 2020 showed that once the pandemic started, more women were struggling with childcare than men (72% of women compared to 53% of men). It’s clear that balancing home life, parenting, and professional responsibilities can be a lot for many women.
A hybrid workplace with flexible working hours and encouraged parental leave for all employees, will help alleviate the pressure women face over having to choose between career and family. This article will you some ideas and resources on how to build a successful hybrid workplace by reconfiguring your L&D strategy and prioritizing communication skills and remote training solutions.
Proactively source female employees
When you’re hiring, going for a 50% quota of women in the workplace sounds like the fair thing to do, right? And it would be, if we were dealing with equal labor force participation across all gender identities—but we’re not.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the rate of women working in February 2021 was 55.8%, a number we haven’t seen since 1987.
When making hiring decisions, it’s important to take this number into consideration. Overcorrecting when it comes to your quota of female employees may be necessary for a while until things can get back on track.
Deliver leadership training
According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted—which in turn means there are far fewer women to promote to higher levels.
A way to combat this issue is by offering leadership training to your female employees, along with the relevant upskilling/reskilling training, to prepare them for senior roles. That way, when the next position opens, you’ll have more options to promote from within.
Offer mentorship and networking opportunities
Women reentering the workforce may feel isolated—especially if they’re mostly working from home. Offering mentorship and networking opportunities will go a long way towards ensuring your female employees will always have the support systems they deserve in order to thrive.
Having a female mentor or coach also serves as a motivator. It sends the message that these employees—who might have faced similar challenges—have found ways to grow their careers.
Building an inclusive workplace
Combating gender inequality in the workplace is a marathon, not a sprint. As women are reentering the workforce, it’s time to take a critical look at how we’re approaching inclusivity and equal opportunities in the workplace.
A great first step is to offer gender inclusion training to leaders and managers so that all returning employees will feel welcome and supported.
Then, we need to ensure that women, especially LGBTQIA+ women and women of color, are getting the support, training, and opportunities for growth they need in order to succeed—in 2022 and onward.