Not only did the U.S. workforce lose 140,000 jobs in December, but women lost a net 156,000 jobs during that same time, according to a recent National Women’s Law Center analysis of the numbers. As if we needed more bad news.
As we start the difficult work of helping women rebuild their careers, we will help companies find talent with the specific skill sets they need and avoid some of the high costs associated with turnover. More importantly, it may ensure that women’s progress in the workplace isn’t set back an entire generation.
Here are five ways business leaders can immediately lay the groundwork for bringing women back into the workforce after the pandemic.
Pandemic leave of absence
Start by offering a pandemic leave of absence for a 12- to 18-month period. In the absence of stronger government policies, businesses must step in to bring women back into their organizations. This might be unpaid, but benefits should be covered. At the end of the leave, your obligation is to guarantee employment at the same level, the same salary, but not necessarily the same job.
As women are frequently the primary caregivers, they may need to resign due to school and childcare unavailability. A Pandemic LOA is an opportunity to keep them with your organization and at the same level of seniority. Focus on women who were identified as high performers before the pandemic. They’ll value your support and loyalty and be less likely to seek employment elsewhere when they are ready to return.
Remove pandemic-gap-year bias
Candidates with resume gaps may be viewed as unambitious or lacking skills and have a 45% lower chance of receiving interviews than those without them. Organizations have to encourage women to be open about “the pandemic gap year” on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles.
The organizations can do so by publicly sharing their commitment to bringing women back into the workforce, being clear that they won’t discriminate against those who had to take time away during the pandemic. Leaders must also remove their biases against it and focus on candidates’ skills and prior experience.
Implement diverse slates of candidates
As you work to remove bias against the pandemic-gap year, ensure that other biases aren’t preventing women candidates from being considered. Thanks to the “two in the pool effect,” a woman’s odds of getting hired are 79 times greater if there are two woman candidates in the pool of finalists.
Educate recruiters and hiring managers on the advantages of hiring diverse candidates. Implement a diversity hiring program and consider piloting it in your areas of the organization where you’ve seen high voluntary attrition of women.
Share the success your company has made by hiring diverse candidates with your entire organization. Use those statistics in your job postings and on your website.
You can also partner with search firms; they serve as advisors to both the company and to candidates and can play an important role in advocating to remove the stigma around women looking to re-enter the workforce. If you do partner with a search firm, include an inclusion rider in your contract, requesting slates that include women who have been out of work due to the pandemic.
Scale return-to-work programs
Returnship programs have been growing in popularity and provide an opportunity for organizations to attract great talent and for individuals to re-enter the workforce after time away. Now’s the time to create a returnship program for women. If you already have one, think about how you’ll scale it for the post-pandemic era.
For those looking for a job, inquire about returnships.
Here are a few companies that offer courses designed for women returning to work.
- Fitch Group Women Returners is a 10-week, full-time, paid internship for financial professionals, accountants, bank officers looking to restart their careers.
- Path Forward is a nonprofit helping over 75 companies including Walmart, Netflix, and PayPal create returnships. Path Forward reports that more than 80% of their participants have been hired by the companies where they completed their returnships.
Companies in industries that are predicted to rebound quickly and do well in a post-pandemic world should take this opportunity to reskill women in certification programs. Graduates should be placed into roles upon completion, with an assigned coach and a company mentor for the first year as they transition. Companies that have done well during the pandemic like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple could reinvest their profits into paying women to complete specific upskilling programs.
This is the time for companies to take steps to support their women employees — both now as the pandemic continues and after it ends. The ones that do will not only see benefits in terms of hiring and costs, but they’ll also help mitigate the backwards spiral of women’s workforce progress.
As a job seeker, these areas should be important to you, when you are looking for your next job.
If you are looking are curious about return-to-work programs and how to have a conversation about the pandemic-gap year, let’s talk about how you can position yourself with your target employer.