In the past year, a record number of women left the workforce. The crisis of the pandemic burdened women in particular with additional family and parenting challenges. Faced with having to do it all – at once – women jettisoned the least valuable item first. Their job.
Hear me out. I’m am not saying a woman’s career isn’t important or valuable. I am saying that women overwhelmingly chose to leave workplaces where they didn’t feel valued or supported.
Despite many strides, women continue to pull double duty at home and at work. The pandemic brought into stark relief that the current structures of our workplaces do not offer the flexibility to fluidly move between work and life responsibilities. The organization that successfully attracts and retains women in its workforce will need to have a hard look at its work structure and reimagine the environment.
What can your organization do to attract talent?
If your company is serious about having a diverse workforce then it also needs to be serious about the diverse needs and goals of that workforce. This is the time for a holistic review of your organization structure, culture, benefits and policies. What changes can you put in place that will make women choose your company over another?
What employees will need in the future
- Re-entry path
- A growth plan
- Policies that promote work/life flexibility
- Culture of transparency and trust
- Empathy and Support
The longer a woman is out of the workforce, the harder it becomes for her to return. The Department of Labor classifies a person as out of the workforce after 28 weeks. It is not uncommon for a woman to step back from the workforce temporarily. Her skills, knowledge, and education, however, remain valuable.
Specific re-entry paths and programs like job sharing and internships can smooth her return to the workforce and make your company more appealing.
A growth plan
Many companies say that gender diversity is important. Fewer have a specific program to focus on nurturing and promoting diverse talent into senior leadership and board positions. If you want women in your workforce, create a culture where women feel valued, understand their impact, and have real opportunities to step into managerial roles including C-suites and board positions.
Review your benefits and policies with a specific emphasis on meeting the needs of women in your workplace. One of the biggest hurdles for women returning to the workforce is access to quality, affordable childcare. Consider reimbursements for childcare expenses or stipends for ergonomic work-from-home workspaces.
Schedule flexibility and autonomy will attract high-performers. Create performance guidelines that focus on accountability for outcomes rather than rigid schedules.
Our current workplace structures were built in the labor era with time clocks and production lines. There is so much opportunity to reimagine and create a workplace that truly meets the needs of the modern employee.
Culture of Transparency and Trust
The shakeup of the last year and a half has damaged faith in company, government, and other institutions. You have a tool at your disposal to help repair that faith. We know that employees are more engaged in a culture of transparency and trust. Creating this type of culture is beneficial for your organization, and vulnerability is a key component to build that transparency and trust.
Vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity. There can be zero innovation without vulnerability.”
~ Brene Brown
Being a vulnerable leader entails being authentic, creating human connections, practicing forgiveness, and leading in a value-based way that is congruent with who you are and what you think, act and do. When you are open and vulnerable with your team, you can build a culture of trust and employee engagement. We can’t solve the problems that are driving women from the workplace without this level of engagement. An open culture enables curiosity, outside of the box thinking, and asking questions which ultimately promotes creativity and innovation.
Empathy and Support
Finally, provide empathy and practical support. There is no ‘new normal’ coming. Your employees, and particularly your female employees, have spent the past year surfing challenges and changes. We need to listen and empathize so we can meet them where they are at in their journey through change.
When we emerge from the pandemic, it goes without saying that employee needs and expectations will be drastically different. Women overwhelmingly left companies that did not provide the flexibility and support they needed during this time. I anticipate they will demand it in the future.