The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t pick and choose who to impact. In some way, almost everyone was affected by it. In 2020, 114 million people lost their jobs. Others experienced extreme cutbacks or were forced to leave their careers to spend time at home since most children across the country had to take part in virtual learning.
While the pandemic itself may not have chosen who to affect, society did. Women have been on the frontlines of the pandemic since the beginning. First, they were more likely to contract the virus thanks to their disproportionate representation in healthcare, education, food service, and other caring industries.
Second, they have taken the brunt of home care. Women have been more likely to stay at home to take care of children, aging relatives, and more. They have become cooks, cleaners, educators, and caregivers all in a year. In December 2020, women accounted for 100% of the jobs lost in the U.S. That’s an alarming statistic, but it should be a blunt realization of the disparities caused by this pandemic.
Thanks to the vaccination rollout, there is a light at the end of the COVID tunnel. But, can things go back to normal? What does a “new” normal look like? How can women be reintegrated back into the workplace, especially in industries where they weren’t welcome before?
What’s Holding Women Back
To get women back to work, it’s important to understand what obstacles they face. Some women want to rejoin the workforce but don’t feel like it’s a level playing field. Others need to be enticed to get back to the workplace.
We’ll talk more about how to do that. But, as a business, knowing what to offer starts with understanding what’s wrong.
Some of the reasons have to do with high demands. That includes things like:
- Intense schedules
- Performance expectations
- Little/no vacation time
- “Off-the-clock” expectations (ie: being available for calls and emails after hours)
These demands, in addition to issues like gender pay gaps, are huge red flags to women when it comes to getting back to work. If the pandemic showed us anything, it’s the importance of spending time with people we care about and practicing self-care. If women aren’t allowed to have both of those things while holding down a job, they’re less likely to rejoin the workforce.
These issues are consistent in multiple industries, including STEM careers. STEM jobs have received negative notoriety for environmental challenges (including sexual harassment) and structural challenges for women. It isn’t the only industry facing those problems, but because it encompasses so many jobs, it’s crucial to point out these flaws that are keeping women away.
Remove Bias and Reskill Women Workers
So, what can be done to draw women back into the workplace? The easy answer is to look at the problems and flip them around. The gender gap is very real, and the bias against women should be the first thing to go.
There are plenty of ways to reduce gender bias in your hiring process, including:
- Understanding common hiring prejudices
- Reworking your job descriptions
- Leveling the playing field for reviewing applications/resumes
- Standardizing interviews
If gender bias has been an issue for your company in the past, taking these steps can help you find qualified female workers who are eager to show loyalty to your business. Removing your biases allows you to focus on the skills and experience of a potential worker rather than looking at the gap in employment caused by the pandemic or other factors.
Once that bias is removed, you can also take the opportunity to reskill and retrain female workers. It’s an especially helpful technique in industries that are expected to bounce back and grow in a post-pandemic world. By offering retraining programs, graduates can take comfort in knowing they’ll be assigned a position after receiving certification. This process helps with long-term benefits and can offset the costs associated with hiring.
Many families are dealing with tighter budgets than ever, thanks to the pandemic. They’re trying to keep their heads above water with little to no income by sorting out their spending or relying on government assistance. Many women have even turned to freelancing and side hustles to bring in an income. If your business offers training and job placement, women can feel more confident in returning, knowing they’ll have a secure job and paycheck upon completion.
Understand What Women Want
In addition to removing gender bias, there are certain incentives to consider to bring women back to the workplace. Some should be obvious, including basic safety, health, and hygiene practices. A 2017 survey found that 1 in 5 people don’t feel safe at work. For women, the biggest problem is unwanted sexual attention that can often be associated with a toxic work environment. Keeping your employees safe and healthy should be a top priority, even if that means taking out special considerations and implementing extra steps to do so.
Second, consider the fact that women may want to try something different. Maybe you work in an industry that has a recognizably low hiring rate for women, such as aviation. Don’t be afraid to market yourself to boost the 4% of female transport pilots who had their certification in 2018. Construction, computer networking, and engineering are also greatly underrepresented by women. That will change when those industries start making themselves more appealing to women who are interested in working.
Of course, there’s the issue of equal pay and basic benefits. Women need to be paid equally, no matter what. They also need benefits that allow for self-care and time with their family.
Some employers are still under the impression that women can’t juggle their time raising a family and a full-time job. But, if you’re willing to let go of those stereotypes, you’re more likely to find dedicated women workers who are loyal to your business and their job, and grateful to work for a company that makes their work-life balance a priority. Keep these ideas in mind to do your part in helping women reintegrate into the post-pandemic workplace. The more businesses that do, the more the face of the American workforce will change for the better.