How Can We Bring Women Back Into The Workforce
At the start of the pandemic, many companies offered strategic ‘outs’ for employees (including unpaid leave and insurance-only furloughs) to avoid traditional layoffs. They seemed like win-win scenarios—companies could save money on salaries and employees could technically stay employed. However, more often than not, it was women who took these opportunities. As the pandemic continued, the women who took these temporary holds vanished from the workforce. Companies inadvertently helped push women out. Now what can they do to bring women back?
In less than 11 months, we lost 32 years of progress toward intersectional gender equity in the labor markets. It will take a 360-degree approach to recuperate more than three decades of lost headway. And that means the private sector and the public sector must deploy a variety of strategies to bring women back into the paid workforce.
For the purposes of your question, let’s focus on what the private sector should do to bring women back into the workforce. (We’ll leave the public sector for another day.)
Ready? Here’s what companies should do to bring women back:
Ensure equity of opportunity and pay. That’s it. Instead of trying to fix women, companies need to fix the broken system that doesn’t value them equitably.
Our workplaces were not built to value all genders equitably. Evidence of this abounds.
If we want to rehire and retain women post-pandemic, we need to revamp our (inequitable) pre-pandemic talent management systems.
What does this look like in practice? → It looks like every stage of the employee lifecycle providing people with equitable access to resources, opportunities, and compensation.
Now how do we operationalize this?
Start with data, because data will reveal where the cracks are. I recommend taking the following steps:
- Map out each stage of the employee lifecycle: recruiting, hiring, onboarding, performance evaluation, development, promotion, retention (including employee experience & pay), and offboarding.
- What does DEI success look like at each of these stages? Translate “success” into metrics so you can measure it. Metrics might include: rates of promotion, involvement in leadership training, employee churn, representation on every step of the ladder, etc.
- Properly disaggregate your data to avoid creating intersectional blind spots. The minimum data disaggregation should be gender PLUS race/ethnicity.
- Set goals: where do you want the metrics from step 2 to be by [calendar date].
- Decide tactics: what is your plan to achieve the stated DEI goals? Maybe you’ll offer paid leave to improve retention of parents and caregivers. Or maybe you’ll publish annual pay data so that all your employees can be confident they’re being paid fairly without having to ask/negotiate/fight.
- Finally, hold leaders accountable for meeting these goals and make the entire process transparent.
Now is our opportunity to hardwire intersectional gender equity into our businesses. It’s one of the best strategies we have to not only bring women back into the workforce, but also improve financial performance, future-proof our workforce, and build back better.