There’s no vaccine for the female recession
Thirteen months ago, the pandemic brought our state to a screeching halt. There were scrambles to get masks, toilet paper shortages, school closures, and lots and lots of cancelations. Everything around us went quiet and remote.
It wasn’t until months later that we started to see the first signs that something bigger was going on beyond the pandemic. In September 2020 alone, 865,000 women left the workforce as another school year became inconsistent and unpredictable (and still is). Thirty-three million childcare workers went offline and still haven’t come back as we pass the one year mark of working from home.
On top of the health and safety concerns that came with a pandemic, women suddenly faced a unique and extremely complicated set of circumstances. The delicate balance between work and home responsibilities collapsed. They had to figure out how to be employees, team members, leaders, and contributors all while managing childcare, remote learning, mental health, and the constant fluctuations of these and more.
But the impact spreads even deeper. During the pandemic, men got three times as many promotions as women. Nearly half of all women in tech feel their career has been delayed because of the pandemic. 75 percent of women in tech cannot mentally consider taking a new job at a new company right now, and 25 percent of women have considered leaving the workforce completely.
These key indicators, collectively and individually, show that what started as a pandemic has become a female recession. It threatens to hold women back from their previous working levels, potential and successes by making it more difficult, challenging, and overwhelming to do what was once more simple and accessible. It’s dragged us back to 1988.
Despite these obstacles, women are strong and resilient. They are smart, innovative, determined, and absolutely incredible. They are navigating this with grace, empathy, and grit. But their experiences also show this impact is real and devastating. There are huge gaps that make previous challenges at work and home harder, holes that used to have simple solutions, and greater need than ever to be in action to support and elevate women. Women have never had so much asked of them with so little support and resources.
Even after the pandemic is done, many of these obstacles will remain. The vaccine will protect us against COVID-19, but there is no vaccine for these challenges.
A loss for women is a loss for all of us. So much of the progress in companies and industries over the last decade has come from greater gender diversity and the influx of ideas, collaboration and energy that women bring. We all lose if these voices are silenced or absent, and everyone needs to be in action on solutions.
Whether you drive a department or drive your own career, there are the most important things you can do:
Things companies can do to help
Companies can and should promote from within. Create pathways and upward mobility for women already excelling within your organization. These women are looking for promotions and growth, but oftentimes must leave to get promoted. Change that by providing internal pathways for growth.
And become empathic leaders. Empathy has become the most critical leadership trait. Train leaders at every organizational level to value compassion. This process will be difficult and uncomfortable, but absolutely essential to the growth and health of your colleagues.
Ensure a flexible environment. Like always, women have figured out how to be productive, better balance life, work without commutes, support their families, and be great employees. The new work world must embrace these new conditions and build cultures that support continued flexibility.
Embracing remote work helps. With more and more research showing people want to live outside of the coast cities, find ways to embrace your remote culture. Employees have proven over the last year that they can be successful working from anywhere. Promote talent that is remote and expect a hybrid world for the future.
And be creative with schedules. A lot of women are looking for part-time jobs while they fill gaps in their home responsibilities and the world continues to normalize. Create part time roles that women and other talent can be a part of to help diversity your workforce.
Things women can do to stay involved
And for the women, invest in yourself. Take advantage of every opportunity you are given and seek out others. Now is the perfect time to agree to work on other team projects, use your company’s training budget to help you improve your skills, and create a roadmap of skills and development that is important to you and start working on it.
Reach out and connect with mentors or leaders in new organizations and from past jobs. Engage in virtual networking and conversations to stay connected. Remember that relationships will help you navigate whatever is next. And make sure you’re looking for your next opportunity. If you have lost your job, reach out to your network and communicate what you are looking for. Take some classes or free courses to improve the skills you know you need and put yourself out there so others can help you.
This recession is bigger than all of us, and it won’t be fixed by a vaccine. We can’t let 30 years of progress disappear. We must all come together and be in action for women during this critical time for the sake of our friends, our colleagues, our companies, our community, and our economy.