Five ways to bring women back into the workforce after a career break

Millions of women have left the U.S. labor force since the start of the pandemic. But the numbers show that not all women have gone back to work. According to the National Women's Law Center, there were 1 million fewer women in the workforce in January 2022 than in February 2020.

However, we cannot blame everything on the pandemic. The Covid crisis only revealed deeper problems with gender equality, biases and gender pay gaps across all industries. Thus, organizations have to address these issues to bring more women back into the workforce. In this article, I would like to discuss how companies can approach this task to make a workplace a better place for women.

Why Women Left The Workforce

To better understand what we should change in work environments, we need to have a broader context of why so many women left their jobs in the first place. Although there were many different reasons for such a massive exodus, here are some of the most significant ones:

• Many women worked in industries that were hit hard by the pandemic and their jobs stopped existing. For example, in 2019, female employees made up more than half of all workers in leisure and hospitality.

• Many women were forced to drastically reduce their working hours or quit their jobs entirely to take care of children or elderly family members, as noted by the National Women's Law Center.

• According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, women's median earnings were 83.1% of that of men's in 2021. For many families, it made more sense financially that the mother leave her job to act as the primary caregiver and supervise their kids' remote learning, not the father.

With these reasons in mind, we can start thinking about strategies to change workplaces so that women would be willing to come back. Let’s take a moment to reflect on why gender equality at work matters so much.

The Importance Of Having Women On Your Team

Equal representation of women in the workplace helps enhance teams' productivity and brings a company more money. According to a McKinsey report, companies with more diverse teams are 21% more likely to reach above-average profitability.

Also, gender diversity makes an organization a better place to work. Studies confirm that companies with more female employees benefit from higher job satisfaction and less burnout among workers of all genders. And improved staff retention means significant savings in terms of time and money spent on recruitment.

Five Things Organizations Can Do To Bring Women Back Into The Workforce

Almost half of our workforce being women, we have come up with some strategies that can attract more women back to the workplace. Here is a brief overview of some of them.

1. Allow more flexibility. This is likely the easiest strategy to implement for many companies. If the nature of the job does not require being in front of the computer from 9 to 5, then allow employees to decide when and where work gets done. Give employees the ability to set their own schedule and balance their home and work responsibilities in the way that works best for them. So, instead of choosing between their professional and personal lives, they will be able to return to the workplace with the confidence that they can have both.

2. Eliminate bias. With so many people forced to quit their jobs during the pandemic, you will inevitably have applicants with employment gaps in their resumes. So, it is essential to address the negative stigma associated with career breaks and make sure that such candidates are not discriminated against. Train your recruiters and hiring managers to be aware of their conscious and unconscious biases. They need to learn to look at each candidate uniquely, review their experience prior to any break in work, evaluate their transferable skills, and focus more on overall job-person fit.

3. Do not ignore the gender pay gap. Considering the lower median earnings of women, the pay gap is still far from closing. And if we want to encourage more women to reenter the workforce, it is imperative to focus on equal compensation for work of equal value. Conduct pay equity audits regularly and make sure all employees of similar experience and in similar roles are paid the same regardless of their gender or race.

4. Consider launching a return-to-work program. Another great way to support women's return to the workforce is through return-to-work programs, or “returnships.” These programs are quite similar to internships, but they are specifically designed for people who have been out of work for a significant amount of time. Returnships can last from a couple of weeks to several months and usually include training and upskilling, mentoring sessions and support from a peer network. Need some inspiration? Take a look at return-to-work programs at Accenture, Microsoft, IBM or HubSpot.

5. Provide learning and growing opportunities. A recent study shows that nine out of every ten tech employees would like to get more learning and development opportunities in their company. Moreover, 58% of respondents named skill development among the top criteria when selecting a new company to work for. So, if you want to create a workplace where professionals of all genders want to stay, it is imperative to provide enough educational opportunities for your employees. And keep in mind that, given the responsibilities women typically have both at work and home, they are likely to prefer flexible programs that can be completed online at their own pace.

Of course, there are more things companies can do to support their female employees: paid leave policies, mentorship programs, mental-health sessions, on-site childcare facilities, etc. The important part is to get started, evaluate the impact of your initiatives and adjust any idea to your company's specific needs.

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