In a previous blog, we mentioned how last September (2020) four times more women had dropped out of the workforce than men. A New York Times article writes that the “pandemic will take our women 10 years back in the workforce.” An article in The Wall Street Journal echoes the same fears. The unemployment rate is growing faster for women than men. And the biggest professional gender gaps in pay and rank are because of motherhood.
Basically, mothers pay a high career price – in particular women and mothers of color.
Even before the pandemic, the United States saw mothers leaving the workforce because childcare is so costly. After the pandemic, though, and closing down early childcare facilities and schools, the disparities and gender inequalities at the workplace have become even more evident than before.
As an organization how can you bring back the talent that women and mothers provide? How can you ensure their job security while meeting the needs, not only of women and mothers but of society as a whole? Those are pretty big questions.
To begin with, it’s time to #ChooseToChallenge our assumptions and support women.
1. Remove gap-year biases. Many women leave the workforce to care for children. Harvard Business Review reports that in 2020, over 2.2 women in the United States had to leave work or dramatically reduce hours. The “gap year” bias is an undercurrent in the world of business, labeling women not ambitious or lacking necessary skills. #ChooseToChallenge your assumptions about this time women take away from the workforce. Be loud about inviting mothers, caregivers to apply for positions in your organization.
2. Develop a Returnship (or Return-to-work) Program for women. Yes. Exclusively for women and/or caregivers. These programs are scalable, giving women the opportunity to hone skills in technology, leadership, and boost confidence with the end-goal of getting them back in the game. This is a great way to diversify your workforce and, in turn, improve innovation, problem-solving, and your reputation in the market.
. 3. Provide Ongoing Career Development Support. Invest in re-skilling and upskilling everyone at work, with a focus on women and caregivers. Certify these programs to give everyone the competencies they need but also can use in the marketplace. A culture of continuous improvement is a key piece of engagement.
4. Meaningful benefits like discounts at a nearby childcare facility, partnerships with a local YMCA after-school program, access to better WiFi at home, discount and computer rentals for educational purposes are all ways any size organization can make profound impacts on the lives of the caregivers (regardless of gender) in the organization.
5. Women’s healthcare and occupational health are vital for women to remain in the workforce. Do you provide the women in your organization access to annual pap smears, mammograms, birth control, mental health programs? How does your healthcare provider limit women? #ChooseToChallenge the assumptions that everything is just fine.
6. Remove discriminatory language from all workplace communication. Have leaders, senior leaders, and collaborators attend workshops on gender bias. Hold people accountable for what they say and how they act. #ChooseToChallenge archaic language and actions that perpetuate stereotypes are hurtful to women and gender-diverse people.
7. What is your Corporate Social Responsibility program? Why not focus on organizations that support women in your community? How better to bring awareness to women’s issues than working with organizations that dedicate their lives to them? Bring in a guest speaker (or host a zoom conference) from the organization to share their vision, mission, and goals.
8. Flex time. We cannot stress this enough. A work environment that allows for flexible work schedules is one of the easiest things to implement at little-to-no cost with one of the highest impacts on the lives, not only of women in your organization but all collaborators. This supports a healthy work-life balance.
#ChooseToChallenge processes, language, and organization structures that create obstacles for women, in particular caregivers, at the workplace. Support women with meaningful actions in your organization. Instead of only focusing on women in March, focus on them year ‘round to create a more equitable, gender-diverse organization that will reap the benefits.