The face of American business has changed dramatically in the last several years – and not necessarily for the better. The pandemic led to the departure of 2.3 million women from the workforce in 2020 alone, as some were let go by employers downsizing and others were compelled to leave their jobs to care for young children or other family members.
Declared a national emergency by vice president Kamala Harris, the exodus of women from the labor force hasn’t only been a crisis in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace – although that would have been enough of a crisis. Simply, it has also been a significant drain on the talent pool at a time when employers continue to scramble to find qualified candidates.
“While the pandemic has been hard and heartbreaking for so many, it has shed a light on many of the inequities that exist in the workplace,” said Allison Robinson, The Mom Project CEO and founder. “Companies are in dire need of talented employees, but they will have to re-evaluate many of their antiquated business practices in order to attract and retain them. The power has shifted from employer to employee.”
Yet many women still face obstacles in taking advantage of this moment, when employees perhaps have more leverage than ever. It only makes sense – for everyone – to remove those barriers and help more women find a way to get back to work. Here’s why and how:
Why Many Women Aren’t Working
While many women may prefer to re-enter the workforce, their options could be limited by a number of practical and financial considerations. Pre-pandemic childcare had been prohibitively expensive for many, and skyrocketing inflation has only put a greater strain on family budgets in the period since. Meanwhile, childcare options have become increasingly limited and far less reliable as vaccination concerns, low wages and competitive alternatives have created a staffing shortage in the industry.
The American Rescue Plan Act earmarked $39 billion for childcare programs, but that funding expires in 2024 and it isn’t clear how effectively it will trickle down to parents – particularly would-be working mothers. Although women as a group are slowly returning to the workforce, they are still down 98,000 jobs since February 2020. Appropriations and annual omnibus spending may lead to more federal dollars being directed to short-term childcare solutions, but a system that is described by some in the industry as “broken” isn’t likely to suddenly meet the needs of the millions of women who are either struggling to balance parenthood and working life or are on the outside of the workforce looking in.
Bringing Women Back to the Workforce
Some help, it seems, is on the way: Amazon and a variety of other big tech companies are advertising return-to-work programs, specialized training and more flexible onboarding that may better accommodate women with caretaker responsibilities. Other organizations, recognizing the moment, are beefing up their company policies and childcare benefits.
Women exploring their employment options have another potential advantage: contingent labor. Contract work typically offers employees a more flexible schedule, work-from-home possibilities and even higher pay. More workers than ever are prioritizing these offerings, but likely no one can benefit more from them than women who have been pushed out of the labor force due to circumstances around childcare.
Ultimately, businesses need to do more to connect with women, who represent an indispensable portion of the available talent pool. In the meantime, more women have an opportunity to reconnect with the working world (and a revenue stream), while still managing caretaker responsibilities, by tapping into contract work.
The PeopleCaddie talent cloud has a tremendous number of talented women across several areas of expertise. Check out PeopleCaddie’s talent cloud.