The Scary Future for Women’s Careers and How to Fix It

Women working with baby in her lap

Think pieces have been written on the topic. Texts have been sent amongst harried mothers. And now, a tangible shift is hitting the workplace. Consequences of the coronavirus is sending women’s careers into crisis in the United States.  

Female employment faced a significant setback starting in March. A Department of Labor analysis found that almost 60% of the terminated jobs were held by women.  

Fortune reported a startling statistic, “the female labor force participation rate dipped below 55% (54.7%) in April 2020 for the first time since February 1986, when it was at 54.8%.” 

Female academics are publishing less, “Elizabeth Hannon, deputy editor of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, wrote on Twitter that she’d received “negligible” submissions from women within the last month. David Samuels, co-editor of Comparative Political Studies, in response shared that submissions to his journal are up 25 percent so far in April, compared to last year. That increase was driven entirely by men, however, he said. Women’s submissions stayed flat.”

“The unemployment rate for women was actually lower than for men, right before the virus came. But unfortunately — and this is a statistic we’ve been tracking — we see that the unemployment rate for women now is higher than it is for men,” US Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said

With most public schools holding virtual classes this fall, working parents are faced with enormous challenges. And women are shouldering much of the burden. A survey from Boston Consulting Group found women spend 15 more hours a week on domestic work than men, on average. 

At Talentfoot, we’ve noticed a troubling new trend that aligns with the statistics: female candidates pulling themselves out of the running for jobs because they cannot commit to a new position; women leaving or cutting back on hours because balancing full-time homeschooling and careers is sometimes insurmountable.  

Women’s careers are in danger. 

At some point, schools will reopen and there will be less of a burden on parents. Jobs will come back and the unemployed will rejoin the workforce.  

Unfortunately, there is no time table for a return to normalcy. Hiring managers and employers need to work with the circumstances in front of them. We know diversity and inclusion makes a stronger organization, losing women in corporate America is an enormous setback for businesses. 

What once worked to retain and acquire top talent is no longer relevant in a pandemic world. Companies that want to remain gender diverse can consider these tactics to evolve hiring and retention strategies.  

Extend Empathy 

In its series on crisis leadership, McKinsey considers empathy to be a critical component of leadership through a crisis:  

“By turning inward to cultivate awareness, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion, and then turning outward to comfort and address the concerns of stakeholders, leaders can exhibit individual care, build resilience, and position their organizations to positively reimagine a post-crisis future.” 

Does your post-crisis future include female employees? It sounds like a silly question, but in this moment of extreme uncertainty, companies are losing female talent.  

To keep your A-players and entice recruits to join your organization, leadership must show genuine compassion and concern.  

This means understanding if a child suddenly appears during a video conference call to ask their parent for help logging onto school. Or showing compassion when an employee needs to take an hour off to bring their own parent to visit a doctor.  

Empathy inspires loyalty from the stressed.  

Evaluate the Schedule 

Have you heard of the four-day work week? A flexible work structure is one way to appeal to future female employees.  

“By focusing on productivity and output rather than time spent in a workplace, the four-day week allows for better work-life balance, improved employee satisfaction, retention, and mental health,” Andrew Barnes, author of “The 4 Day Week” and co-founder of the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global told NBC News.  

Consider different types of employment models to retain and bring on new talent. For example, you may offer part-time positions, or the flexibility to work during off-peak hours, like evenings and weekends, when school is out of session.  

Stick with Remote 

Some employers are reopening offices and inviting employees back. Big tech like Google and Facebook continue to allow remote work, and other companies are taking a hybrid approach.  

Offer your people the chance to continue virtual work. Eliminate commuting time. Let employees use lunch breaks to help with virtual schooling or pick their kids up from half-day programs at school.  

Virtual work lets your people, especially female employees, attend to domestic matters with greater ease. 

Talent to Lose 

Recently, a female executive candidate candidly told me she feels like we are in the midst of a “feminist crisis.” Women’s careers are in danger of a lasting negative impact because of COVID aftershocks.  

Companies that want to succeed post-COVID need a plan to keep and hire critical talent. The key is extending empathy to women under stress and finding a way to meet their needs until we return to some type of normalcy.