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Over the past year, more women than ever have been leaving the workforce. In fact, close to three million American women left within the past year, according to CBS News. While at first glance it’s easy to attribute the change to the Covid-19 pandemic, the issues women are facing are much larger. The pandemic simply exasperated and highlighted many of the existing problems women in the workplace have faced for decades. To keep and increase gender diversity, companies will need to evaluate their policies, check their implicit biases, and take a proactive approach to increasing gender diversity at work.
Three-quarters of American mothers work full time with 40 percent of women being the lone salary of families with children. Yet, women face a different set of standards, both at work and at home. One of the challenges to increasing gender diversity in the workplace is to prevent attrition, according to an article by Forbes, and the way to achieve this is by implementing female-friendly workplace policies.
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Child care and domestic tasks are among the biggest reasons women are leaving their jobs. Though the pandemic has forced some tough decisions between work and caring for children, the underlying issue has long been present. “The pandemic has exacerbated and shed light on a longstanding problem, which is lack of policies that enable folks to balance caregiving responsibilities and work responsibilities,” Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who focuses on work-family balance and pay equity, told CBS News. “Caregiving is still largely perceived as a female function,” Frye said. “The pandemic has been, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime event, but we will have failed if we don’t learn the lesson about the lack of support for caregiving. We need to be intentional about creating the policies necessary to support not only women, but families,” she said.
Flexible workplace policies and paid sick leave are among the solutions companies can provide for their employees. Such policies, and even childcare subsidies, should not be a perk, but the norm to allow women to more consistently keep their job. In addition, companies should create a sensitive workplace culture where employees feel comfortable taking time to take care of their families. Fortunately for employers, these types of policies attract top talent and increase retention.
Two more reasons that are causing women to leave the workforce are continued difficulties with pay gaps and hostile work environments. Sexual harassment and the “motherhood penalty,” according to Forbes, continue to be issues women face. Unhealthy work environments and the pay gap both contribute to long-term difficulties for women. While a negative atmosphere can be detrimental to mental health, the pay gap can result in women facing up to a 20 percent decrease in pay over time once they have children. Though these issues are tired, they persist. “202 years. That’s how long it will take to close the gender gap unless we speed up the process,” says a recent report by the World Economic Forum. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions that can and must be implemented to ensure women return to the workforce and remain a part of it.
The first method companies should focus on to attract and keep women among their rankings is to create female-friendly work policies. This includes paid sick leave, childcare subsidies, flexible workplace policies, and more. Such policies would allow women the freedom and flexibility needed to manage both their work and home life well.
According to Harvard Business Review, educating the hiring managers is key to increasing gender diversity as well. It is vital that at least two women are included in a diverse candidate slate to ensure women have a fair chance of being hired. In fact, two women in the applicant pool multiply the chance of a woman being hired 79 times. Including more than one woman eliminates unconscious bias.
Another specific bias to avoid as women return to the workforce as the pandemic subsides is gap year bias. Hiring managers should shift to skills- and capabilities-based hiring. By focusing on skills and experience, any gaps in a woman’s employment record becomes less relevant.
Finally, companies should offer upskilling and reskilling to women, who are statistically most likely to take advantage of the opportunity. Companies that are or will soon be performing well after the pandemic such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon among others can capitalize on the re-hiring process. By reskilling women by paying them to complete certification programs or upskilling programs, companies may easily earn back their investment in the employees. Upon completion of the programs, employees would then be hired into specific roles with a supervisor to oversee the transition for the first year of the new job and tasks.
Although the workforce continues to lose women, implementing female-friendly workplace policies not only reduces attrition among women in the workplace, but actually helps create greater candidate diversity and attracts more qualified talent in the future.