We are currently experiencing a mass exodus of women from the workplace. After some modest gains, and historic firsts with the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President of the United States, everything women have gained in the workforce and more is at risk.
The pandemic hit women in the workplace HARD. In December 2020, women accounted for ALL of the net job losses, and unemployment for women is 1.9 percentage points higher than before the pandemic. (Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
Overall, nearly 2.4 million women have exited the workforce since last February, compared with less than 1.8 million men. And this trend continues. As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in January alone, 275,000 women left the workforce last month compared with 71,000 men.
It is about to get even worse. According to leanin.org, one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace due to COVID-19.
One in Four women are currently considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace due to COVID-19
With schools, daycares, and elder-care centers closed, the COVID pandemic has created a burden of additional work, as much as 15 additional unpaid hours each week, and this burden has fallen most heavily on women. Women are in the position of choosing between their families or their careers. Burnout, stress, and mental fatigue has driven these women to reduce their work hours or leave the workforce altogether.
Such a great loss of talent from the workforce is a crisis. This is a crisis that affects our companies, but more importantly, affects the health of our country as a whole. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates the GDP growth rate could be $1 trillion lower by 2030 as a result.
The cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.
What can your organization do to retain talent?
Any time your organization loses a talented and valuable employee there is a loss. A loss of a team member. A loss of productivity. A loss of dollars. According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary — and that’s a conservative estimate.
Importantly, the current mass exodus is a threat to diversity and inclusion in the workplace as women, and specifically minority women, quit or downsize their positions. On the company level, organizations with gender-diverse executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability. The loss of current employees directly affects the bottom line for now and also for the future. The loss of female employees within the company means the pipeline for diverse leadership will run dry.
Leader as supporter
Now is the time to pivot your role as leader from Sage-on-the-Stage to Guide-on-the-side. Empathetic and flexible leadership is what your employees need most. Today’s successful leaders have placed hierarchy to the side to focus on supporting and equipping their teams.
What employees need now
One size fits all won’t work in the current environment. State by state, even county by county, our communities are in various stages of reopening. Communicate with your team so they understand that their safety is important. Safety is important for all employees, but it is particularly important for women who are at higher risk for leaving. Individualized solutions will be necessary to navigate the many variable. What works for one employee may not for another. An employee may not feel comfortable returning to in-person work if there is an immunocompromised family member at home. Another may be more than ready to return to the workplace to avoid isolation.
Make specific time to discuss challenges your team members are facing in their work-from-home situation or returning to in-person work. Listening and understanding are no-cost things you can give your employees right now that they need.
Once you understand what your employee is dealing with – take action. This is where flexibility is important. Your employee may have multiple demands on her time during the day. Focus on outcomes rather than activity. Empower her to take ownership of outcomes and be in charge of her own schedule. Virtual work is based on trust. Hire people you trust and trust the people you hire. High performing people value, and are motivated by, autonomy.
Hire people you trust and trust the people you hire.
Set reasonable workloads. Make sure workloads are focused on critical tasks that impact the bottom line and ruthlessly eliminate tasks that are neither urgent nor essential for your organization’s success. Employees will have higher job satisfaction when their efforts contribute to meaningful, high-value work. Provide accountability for productivity and meeting deadlines but balance that with flexibility on how and when she meets her goals.
Finally, be efficient. The focus should not be on hours, but on results. Your employees, and most critically, your women employees are pressed for time. They are juggling care of children and aged parents, home schooling, and challenges of running a household during a pandemic. With no time to waste, there is intense frustration with time wasters.
Limit, or delete meetings. Meetings require the unproductive and coordinated time of several individuals. If you absolutely need to have a meeting, ensure you have an agenda, a purpose, and you schedule it to make the best use of everyone’s time.
Women represent nearly half of the US workforce. We cannot allow this valuable resource to slip through our fingers. Talk to your female employees and investigate how modifications, flexibility, and understanding can help them stay in your workplace.