The pandemic hurt working women. Employers can help.
We’re still learning the myriad ways the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted women, but here’s a staggering statistic: the U.S. workforce is missing 2.3 million women compared to pre-pandemic labor force growth.
In an instant, decades of growth in women in leadership positions and workforce participation rates evaporated as women absorbed the brunt of global shutdowns when schools and child care centers closed. In the years leading up to the pandemic, attrition rates for men were consistently higher than for women, according to McKinsey and Co.—yet the pandemic immediately flipped that trend, resulting in 1 in 4 working mothers considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their career, versus 1 in 5 working fathers.
And while men have recovered all of their net job losses due to the pandemic, women are still missing 100,000 jobs, making up 88.4% of net labor force leavers since February 2020.
Employers have an opportunity to counter the pandemic’s unequal impact on women—a priority that’s not only an ethical imperative, but also a smart business move with proven ROI. So how can employers help women in the midst of these disadvantages? Here are a few key solutions to attracting and retaining women in your organization.
Paid maternity leave / parental leave
Paid maternity leave is truly one of the most impactful ways to attract and retain women talent. Many women need time to physically heal and bond with their newborn or newly adopted children—and what happens when women have to take that time off without pay? They lose all their savings.
According to a survey by disability insurance company Breeze, 74% of women said they wouldn’t have any cash savings left after eight weeks of unpaid maternity leave. That’s about as long as it takes to recover from a c-section—a crucial time for women’s health and wellbeing.
What’s more, women surveyed were so financially burdened as a result of not having paid maternity leave that:
- 54% would consider taking out a personal loan to cover their unpaid leave
- 49% would consider withdrawing funds from their retirement account
- 47% said they would accept a 5% pay cut if their employer offered paid maternity leave.
Women’s livelihoods are jeopardized by lack of paid parental leave. Employers who value the contributions of women and wish to improve their organization’s attraction and retention rates for women will view paid leave as the necessary benefit that it is rather than a benevolent bonus.
Flexible work schedules
Women favor flexible work schedules over other aspects of their jobs. At 61%, the majority of women surveyed by CareerBuilder said that their work schedule is one of the most important aspects of their current role.
And it’s not just a preference—flexible work schedules have been shown to benefit women and people of color the most. Harvard Business Review reports that when companies offered flexible work schedules, family leave, and childcare support to all employees, the percentage of women and people of color in management rose significantly, according to a study of more than 800 U.S. companies over 30 years.
Why? “Because [these groups] face the greatest work/life challenges,” the authors note. “Women and people of color are, for example, more likely to be single parents than white men are. Single mothers head 41% of Black families, 25% of Hispanic families, 13% of white families, and 11% of Asian American families. Single fathers head 12% of Black and Hispanic families and 7% of white and Asian American families.”
The authors also note that changes in child care arrangements and work schedules contribute to minority employees quitting their jobs. “That sets their seniority clock to zero if and when they take on a new job, delaying their opportunities for promotion,” they report. “This pattern has prevented many women and people of color from moving into supervisory roles and helps explain why the face of corporate management has been changing so slowly.”
By offering flexible work schedules, employers can not only attract and retain more women and people of color in their workforce—they can also help address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals and create an environment where more people can thrive.
Child care benefits
Whether employers realize it or not, your working parents are struggling with child care—and it's a business issue affecting your bottom line. Kinside’s data shows that child care benefits are crucial for working parents: 81% of families rely on some type of child care outside the home.
Families are making permanent career decisions due to a lack of child care, with working parents reporting the following:
- 61% change work schedules
- 41% find a new job
- 30% turn down a job or promotion
- 20% leave the workforce
- 17% relocate their families
—all because of child care issues, whether that’s finding, securing, or affording care.
In fact, employers can directly calculate the impact of child-care-related turnover at their organization—and there will be turnover if working parents can’t get the child care they need. This helpful report offers insights for employers who want to understand how child care issues affect their employees and bottom line.
Employers can offer a dependent care flexible spending account (59% of employers currently offer dependent care FSAs) or contribute funds into an employee’s DCFSA. Another benefit to help parents pay for child care is a child care stipend to offset the cost. Some employers even offer tuition discounts through child care benefits solutions such as Kinside, a child care marketplace that helps employees find care and partners with providers to offer exclusive discounts on the cost of care.
Other helpful benefits include on-site child care, allowing employees to bring children to work in an emergency, and addressing employees’ needs for elder care services.
An opportunity to stand out
With record numbers of women dropping out of the workforce during the pandemic to care for children, employers have the opportunity to counter the unequal impact on women and support women employees by offering the benefits that overwhelmingly help women. Socially conscious and mission-oriented leaders will recognize the unique opportunity to make an impact and set their organizations apart from the competition by creating a workplace that works for more people.
Get more insights with our employer newsletter