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How to support women in the workplace and help end the “shecession”

Posted by Kanika Sinha

November 22, 2021    |     4-minute read (715 words)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but female professionals have been hit harder economically and socially than their male counterparts. Women have been forced to leave the workforce in record numbers, reduce their working hours or delay reentering the workforce to manage childcare responsibilities and the many other roles they play. This has led to higher unemployment and income loss for women, triggering a “shecession” in the U.S. for the first time in history.

Pandemic-related job losses have fallen the hardest in service sectors where women comprise the majority of workers. Pew Research Center reported that 2.4 million women left the workforce between February 2020 and February 2021, compared with less than 1.8 million men. Women are at their lowest level of workforce participation in the last three decades, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

It is time for organizations to take note of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, as well as their current workplace practices and cultures. Employers need to incorporate empathy in their recruitment practices and take a measured approach to how they bring women back, so they return to better situations than before.

Here are five steps employers can take to support working women and address the “shecession:” 

  1. Adapt to changes in lifestyle – A July survey found that 19% of employed women respondents said they never wanted to return to the in-person workplace, compared to 7% of men. A full day of office work, followed by hours spent caring for children or elders and doing household chores has taken its toll. Therefore, women need more flexibility in terms of working hours and scheduling in addition to more remote working opportunities. 

  2. Employers can support women by acknowledging and accommodating their unique experiences and providing hybrid work opportunities with more flexibility in work hours and deadlines. They can also offer assistance programs and destigmatize the challenges associated with juggling work and parental duties.
  1. Continue professional development – McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace” report shows that 1 in 3 women have considered downshifting or leaving the workforce in the last year. In light of this, employers should find innovative ways to reinvite women to the workplace. 

  2. Ideas include investing in reentry workforce programs, such as apprenticeship and returnships

    Upskilling and reskilling programs can help support women, particularly underrepresented women, to pivot their careers, find mentorship and networking opportunities, and fill resume gaps.
  1. Support parents and child care – The pandemic has highlighted the additional demands and pressures most working women face at home. In the “Women in the Workplace” report, the majority of working mothers who are thinking about downshifting or leaving their job cite child care responsibilities as the primary reason. 

  2. Companies must support women in overcoming caretaking challenges to get them back into the workforce. Women who are struggling to maintain a reasonable work-life balance may benefit from financial incentives such as paid time off and child care referrals and subsidies. 
  1. Support time off – It goes without saying that being understanding about and accommodating employees’ requests for time off promotes staff well-being. Employers should honor and advocate for all forms of leave, such as sick days, vacation time and family leave to attend to sick parents and relatives. 

  2. There is still a pervasive bias against hiring women for senior positions based on the premise they may need maternity leave. To mitigate against this, employers can establish stronger parental leave policies for both mothers and fathers. If men were also allowed to take time off work when they become parents, fewer women would be faced with choosing between family or career.
  1. Recruit and mentor – In the Women in Tech Report, 41% of respondents cite the lack of a mentor as a hindrance to promotion.

  2. With mentorship in the workplace a vital tool for women’s career development, employers need to provide more training for women seeking to boost their skills and explore advancement opportunities. Employers can also create targeted recruiting campaigns to help women find jobs.
Wrap-up

Employers need to pay special attention to women’s career and their reentry into the workforce. Without immediate action, the “shecession” will wipe out decades of progress. Businesses can retain and recruit more female employees by allowing employees more flexible work schedules and assessing their paid time-off policies.

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