The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in the workplace is striking. Nearly 2.3 million women have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic and that figure doesn’t just represent the layoffs and furloughs that affected women in the early months of the pandemic. In January 2021 alone, 275,000 women left the workforce (80 percent of the total). According to the National Women’s Law Center, the female labor force participation rate now stands at 57 percent — the lowest it’s been since 1988.
There are many reasons women have left their jobs in the last year, including inconsistent childcare availability, school closures, and pressures related to remote work. For employers, the challenge is to understand what contributes to women leaving and what you can do to prevent it. After all, retaining women in your workforce not only supports your goals for a diverse and inclusive work culture, but it also impacts overall organizational effectiveness. Numerous studies have found that organizations with greater ethnic and gender diversity perform better. Therefore, to retain women and keep them engaged in the new remote workplace, you’ll need to take the following actions:
Offer more flexibility to employees
When the pandemic forced many employees to work from home, many workers saved time on their commute and found new ways to become productive. But for many working women, especially those who are parents, remote work simply meant more work. According to a 2020 McKinsey/Lean In study, women are 1.5 times more likely than men to spend an additional 20 hours a week on childcare and household duties amid the pandemic.
Given the demands on working women’s time, it’s critical to provide flexibility for them to get it all done. You can empower women (and all employees) to establish work patterns that work for them and the company by considering the following activities:
• Offer options for on-site, remote, and hybrid work schedules
• Limit the need for employees to be “always on” (Not every interaction has to be on Zoom. For example, Citigroup recently instituted “Zoom-free Fridays”)
• Add benefits such as emergency backup childcare or stipends employees can use for a variety of purposes
• Consider part-time and alternative work schedules
Identify opportunities to advance women
A recent survey by Deloitte revealed one of the biggest fears of women is that the pandemic will affect their careers negatively. In fact, 7 out of 10 women in the survey who said they experienced a disruption in their routine as a result of the pandemic believe their career progression will take a hit. This doesn’t have to be the case. Whether you have women employees working part-time, from home, or on a hybrid arrangement, there are still opportunities to retain them through opportunities for advancement.
The assumption that women seeking flexibility aren’t also interested in advancement must be cast aside if you want to retain them in the new post-COVID workplace. Here are some of the actions you can take to keep women in consideration for promotional opportunities and career growth:
• Support continuous learning through personalized training options, such as self-directed virtual training courses and customized stretch assignments
• Provide leadership training that covers how to manage remote teams and how to lead as a remote-based manager
• Establish mentorship opportunities geared toward helping employees build their internal network
Leverage data to identify and eliminate promotion and compensation bias
It’s no secret that bias in hiring and other processes still exists in some places, but HR analytics can help you root it out. By looking at key hiring data and workforce metrics, you can identify the following:
• Pay inequities among new hires and existing employees
• The number of women and minorities in your talent pipeline relative to men
• Inequities in promotion rates and time to the next promotion
Creating pay and promotion equity is a great starting point for retaining women, particularly since they are less likely than men to ask for a raise or promotion. A recent survey by Indeed Hiring Lab found that 74 percent of men are comfortable asking for a raise compared to only 58 percent of women, which can further widen disparities in pay. While there will always be raise and promotion requests to consider, you can take proactive steps to retain female talent by using available workforce data to guide equitable compensation and promotion decisions.
Your workplace will be more inclusive and productive when you take targeted action to recognize and engage employees of all genders. By paying attention to the unique needs of the women in your workforce, you can not only retain them but also help them perform to their maximum potential.