26 September 2023

Five ways to re-engage women in the workforce

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Jennefer Witter* discusses how pandemic disruptions could get more women into the workforce – if managed correctly.

The pandemic has had a profound effect on women, whose participation in the workflow hit a 33-year low in January 2021.

As companies rebound from COVID-19, women are re-entering the workforce more slowly than men; some economists estimate that it could take until at least 2024 to rebalance the workforce, amounting to $64.5 billion per year in wage losses.

For Take The Lead cofounder and president Gloria Feldt, this upheaval has an upside: “Disruptions are the best possible time to get new ideas into systems.”

She recommends five steps companies must take to re-engage women.

1) Embrace flexibility.

COVID-19 has revealed that “for most of the work we do, it is eminently possible to have a hybrid or virtual solution,” says Feldt.

Companies have to take a hard look at their attitude around flexibility, create policies that provide more options to employees, and invest in the infrastructure to support these new options.

Embracing this reality will make it easier for companies to recruit and retain female talent and remove one obstacle standing in the way of women who want to go back to work.

2) Focus on culture.

Women often leave jobs because they realise “the culture isn’t supportive, or a good fit,” observes Feldt.

As companies assess the impact of COVID-19, Feldt says this is “a good time to take stock of what company culture is” by surveying their climate and understanding where “there are places to effect change.”

Feldt emphasizes the need for companies to implement programs such as Take The Lead’s “Creating a Culture of Inclusion” intentionally for all employees.

“People of colour and other underrepresented populations, including women, also benefit from training and professional development opportunities.

3) Establish pay equity.

While the gender pay gap is not new, Feldt believes that this is a prime example of a time where the disruption caused by COVID-19 can pave the way for companies to “make changes they should have been making already.”

Companies that display a tangible commitment to addressing compensation inequity will more readily draw top female talent.

Consider that it is a rational decision for the person making less money to leave work for caregiving.

When there is no gender pay gap, it is more likely that women will earn enough to make staying in the workforce the more rational decision.

4) Support childcare-friendly policies.

Nearly a quarter of women who left the workforce due to COVID-19 did so because they lacked childcare.

“Childcare is not a luxury,” stresses Feldt.

It is essential infrastructure, and companies need to get on board with both creating their own and supporting public policies that signal an awareness of this reality.

This doesn’t necessarily mean building an on-site childcare centre; companies can provide direct financial support for childcare while also advocating for childcare tax incentives.

5) Connect your employees to your mission.

In Feldt’s experience, women value work with a purpose.

While many companies share their core values with customers, they may not focus on communicating these values internally.

Whether a company is committed to community engagement, gender equity, or racial justice, it’s essential that companies “adequately frame their mission to their employees” so women in the company feel deeply connected to their work and remain engaged.

In addition to this advice for companies, Feldt also has a tip for women who want to be drivers of company culture:

“Don’t try to do it by yourself.

“COVID-19 has revealed concerns shared by many, which means you can identify allies.”

No stranger to alliance-building, Feldt’s work with Take The Lead specifically aims to achieve gender parity in the workplace by developing women’s leadership skills and elevating their leadership intentions through training, coaching, thought leadership, and networking opportunities.

“An example is our newly launched Academy for Advanced Leadership,” notes Feldt.

“It’s a monthly membership program designed for women who want to elevate their lives and their careers and lead with purpose, clarity, and intention – all elements that underscore successful alliance-building.”

Re-engaging women in the workforce makes sense for everyone; companies with women in leadership are more innovative and ultimately more profitable.

Feldt cautions that the window for change will not stay open forever:

“I see this time as turning chaos into opportunity. Now is the moment when we can make these changes.”

*Jennefer Witter is the CEO and Founder of The Boreland Group Inc.

This article first appeared at forbes.com.

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