Help wanted. The signs are everywhere you look, and job boards are plastered with openings that companies can’t fill. One of the biggest obstacles hindering the economy’s recovery and growth is the labor shortage. The talent pool is smaller—and more selective—than it was pre-pandemic. One demographic is contemplating whether to even return to work: women. An estimated 54 million women disappeared from the workforce during the pandemic, and many may never return, further challenging recruiting efforts around the world.
The last 21 months uniquely impacted women on all fronts, so much so that this time period is being called the “She-Cession.” Some women sacrificed their jobs to care for their families. Others were left crushed and jobless after the coronavirus devastated female-centric industries, such as healthcare, services, hospitality, and education. Now that these women could return to the workforce and are desperately needed, countless are reluctant because they don’t like what they’re going back to—often toxic environments, long hours, lack of daycare support, and inequity. It is unacceptable to know that over half of women reported being harassed, excluded, or given fewer opportunities for advancement than their male counterparts over the last year. Women have drawn a line in the sand. Workplace culture needs to evolve, and organizations must intentionally create environments where women can thrive.
The coronavirus upended industries dominated by females. Women make up 70% of healthcare workers globally. These professionals dealt with seemingly endless emotional and psychological horror at the height of the pandemic, causing nearly one in five workers to quit in the US. At the same time, another 12% were laid off. The travel and tourism industry, where women make up most of the workers worldwide, lost 62 million jobs in 2020, an 18.5% decrease.
Women who stayed in the workforce felt increasing pressure at home, taking on more childcare responsibilities than men each week and juggling growing demands in the office. Data from McKinsey found that female leaders are 63% more likely to take on “office housework,” like providing emotional support to colleagues, which can be draining.
With nearly eight in 10 employed women taking on more responsibilities at work since the onset of the pandemic, their mental health is declining and leading to many consciously putting their professional lives on the back burner, even at the most senior levels. One in three women in the US are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. This disruption has pushed back women’s parity by an entire generation; now, it’ll take 135.6 years for women to have access to the same opportunities as men.
Orchid, a San Francisco resident, temporarily moved her family to Michigan for 11 months, so her mother-in-law could watch her daughter while she and her husband worked during the day. Even with the help, Orchid felt burned out and decided to make changes in her career. Learn more about how the pandemic impacted Orchid by watching episode two of "AI@Work: The Miniseries."
The proverbial 9-5 day no longer works. Women want the workplace to evolve, taking real people’s needs into consideration. During the pandemic, 88% of people reflected and redefined what success means to them. Flexibility, good mental health, and work-life balance are now top workforce priorities. By offering flexibility in where and when employees work, companies can make it easier for parents and caregivers to find their footing and schedule their days for triumphant outcomes at work and home. During the pandemic, many women who left the traditional labor force turned to the gig economy to put food on the table because they choose when they work. Since January 2021, women driving for Uber increased 80%, and women now make up the majority of workers for food delivery services like Instacart and DoorDash.
Additionally, the pandemic highlighted disparities in the job market, making it harder for many women to work. This is especially significant in the US, where they hold six out of 10 low-paying jobs. Only 6% of low-wage workers have paid family leave, which would protect their job if they needed to care for a seriously ill family member. Furthermore, workers in this category have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Hotel clerks, servers, cashiers, and other low-wage workers are more likely to have lost their job over the last 21 months. Making matters worse, these low-paying jobs are the slowest to return, keeping more women from re-entering the workforce. Another looming problem that impacts women from all backgrounds is the childcare crisis. The lack of daycare support keeps mothers out of the labor force due to high costs and limited accessibility.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion also deserve a special focus to help regain some of the ground lost during the pandemic and help reach parity. Organizations must continue to improve women’s experiences at work, especially women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and women with disabilities who are more likely to experience microaggressions and discrimination. HR also has an opportunity to make a hands-on impact by being more empathetic to gaps on a resume and by introducing “returnship programs.” These programs help adults who have been absent from the traditional workforce, such as stay-at-home parents or military personnel, quickly close knowledge gaps and get caught up without starting over in their careers.
While improving these areas would encourage women to rejoin the workforce or convince them to stay, these shifts in mentality benefit all employees—the majority of whom don’t feel heard by employers. 87% of workers worldwide want their organizations to do more to listen to their needs, and almost as many don’t feel supported. Companies need to increase efforts to bolster their workforce and leverage technology to help employees prepare for the future.
Host Jennifer Moss discusses how our relationship with technology can empower the workforce with Yvette Cameron, SVP of HCM Global Product Strategy, and Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence, in episode four of "AI@Work: The Miniseries."
Even before we heard the term “social distancing,” it was estimated as many as 160 million women may need to upskill or reskill by 2030 due to overrepresentation in fields likely to be impacted by automation. Globally, it’s predicted that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. Workers see how rapidly the way we work is changing, and 85% trust technology to guide their careers.
Thanks to the wide availability of online courses, more women are seizing the opportunity to upskill and reskill themselves during the ongoing pandemic seeking better jobs and higher pay. Globally, women are investing in their communication skills by taking writing courses and learning new languages. There’s also been a sharp increase in the number of women specifically enrolling in STEM classes such as programming and machine learning, as noted by multiple online learning platforms.
A US-based MetLife study found that eight out of 10 women who were forced from the workforce and planned to return want to pursue a new career in STEM. A LinkedIn report finds that more women than men have changed careers during the pandemic, with one in eight working women changing employers or jobs in the last 18 months. That percentage would likely be lower if workplace opportunities were equitable. Men have been promoted three times more than women during the pandemic, including fewer women being promoted into leadership roles.
Women aren’t willing to settle anymore. The pandemic sparked an awakening, and now, women are pursuing a better life—whether that means finding an employer that meets their needs, switching careers, or permanently leaving the workforce. Organizations have an incredible opportunity to leverage this desire to grow and fulfill the needs of these women by using technology. AI combined with machine learning and analytics takes the guesswork out of career development planning by creating personalized learning paths for employees. This mutually beneficial solution creates an adaptable workforce; women can learn new skills to better their careers, and companies can build a sustainable talent pipeline that can be molded to meet tomorrow’s needs. Companies need to take an honest look at themselves and ask: Is your culture keeping women from re-entering the workforce?
Learn more now by watching “AI@Work: The Miniseries” to hear how the pandemic has impacted real people and how they’ve tailored their world of work to thrive despite the challenges. You can also read our latest ebook, “Employees Want to Stay, but Are Employers Giving Them a Reason To?” to learn how employee expectations have shifted and how you can support the new needs of your workforce.
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Amber is the Senior Content Marketing Manager, HCM Global Campaigns. She's passionate about writing, dogs, lifting others, and personal growth.