Buck Bond Group
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. – How to bring women back to work

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. – How to bring women back to work

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Employers continue to see high turnover levels in this white-hot labor market, and are struggling to attract and retain employees as workers realize they now have the upper hand in directing their careers.

Or at least, male workers do.

In its January 2022 jobs report the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women’s participation in the workplace has fallen to 57% as 275,000 women left the workforce in January. Over 1.6 million American mothers and caregivers left the workforce in 2020, a continuing trend.

The difference? The brunt of caring for children while working from home or tackling shift work during the pandemic fell almost exclusively on women. Burnout rates climbed as women either shifted to less demanding work or simply dropped out of the workforce. In two-parent families there is often a lack of support for the woman while the man pursues his career. And employers continue to show a hiring bias against those with long gaps in service, while still not providing equal opportunity and pay for women.

Please don’t go

Employers facing a staffing shortage can do a lot to retain, and even boost, their female employees. Progressive employers will have to own up to providing support and incentives for women to reenter the workforce.

Paramount in achieving this is removing bias from the recruitment process. Map out the recruitment-retention strategy. Job postings should be written to emphasize inclusiveness, and interviewers and hiring managers will need unconscious bias training, supported by a clear performance management system. Post salary ranges for positions—this signals that the employer is committed to fair pay, and helps showcase your commitment to gender parity.

Employers could consider “returnships” – phased return-to-work programs to re-onboard women returning as new parents or those with gaps in their work histories due to caregiving and family obligations. And to help keep female talent from leaving, companies should conduct “stay conversations” promoting flexible work arrangements that support and balance family needs with productivity requirements.

Time after time

Paid time off policies are equally critical. Women are often primary caregivers in their families and employers need to be more understanding of situations beyond the employee’s control. Parental leave should be broadened: 84% of new mothers with 6 weeks of paid leave return to their employer, while only 56% of those with under 6 weeks’ leave do so. Consider expanding parental leave to be a family care leave to give people the time needed to attend to ill family members whether on an intermittent or continuous basis.

Additionally, flex time, remote working, and predictable hours give employers a further avenue to success in keeping women working and combat female “self-extraction” to part-time jobs. Companies that really push beyond the norm are going to be the ones to win with women in the future. Studies show that male-female diversity results improved business and organizational outcomes; those organizations that attract (or re-attract) women to the workforce will win across the board.

An emerging practice in the U.S. is the flex work week or 4-day work week. According to a study by workplace equity firm Syndio, 68.5% of those with children at home rated having a flexible work schedule as more important than before COVID, and 70% of those were women. Himalayas, a remote-work job posting site, noted that 109 companies have adopted the 4-day work week in 2022. The move to the shorter week provides opportunities for people to manage the demands on their time, volunteer, or relax; companies adopting the idea find it promotes retraining and upskilling, increases productivity (by as much as 40% according to some), and attracts the talent that employers are desperately  in need of.

Come together

If the company hasn’t already developed this, establish goals around female leadership. This is not necessarily a quota system but puts promotion to senior positions in the spotlight for women.

Providing employee resource and support groups at work for all women, mommy clubs, and grief recovery programs; instituting mentoring, career mapping, and leadership programs for all career levels to bring women to the table; and even sabbaticals for career growth are further steps companies can take to actively bolster the voices of women in the workplace.

Employers should look at increased cross-training and certification initiatives to improve skillsets and open up opportunities to traditionally “male-dominated” hourly jobs that are paid higher (warehouse, construction, etc.).

That’s what I want

Beyond PTO and flex working policies, there are benefits that employers can offer which go a long way to supporting the working realities of women.

An employer should commit (even in the absence of a similar federal commitment) to fair wages (e.g. establishing a minimum wage of $15.00, regardless of federal, state, or local mandates), and pay transparency. Prevent interview questions around current pay levels and conduct frequent pay equity audits to stay on top of the market.

Progressive employers are already offering a range of employee benefits including childcare and eldercare benefits, support for pregnancy such as financial assistance for fertility, fostering, and surrogacy, creating private spaces for milk expressing and/or nursing, breastmilk shipments when on business travel, on-site daycare, family support memberships, like Maven, and more. Making sure the EAP program is known and accessible, providing financial planning especially geared to women, and offering life planning accounts that provide cash to employees to use as they need it, are strong factors in support of working mothers.

Something to talk about

Companies need to honestly assess their employee value proposition (EVP) from a woman’s perspective. Dig into your data to clearly see the generational make-up of your female workforce, where they are in their careers, and where there are gaps between the needs of women and what your organization offers. Be prepared to realign the EVP to highlight the benefits—beyond but including pay—that will appeal to the talent you need.

Then shout it from the rooftops. Create an open, clear communication strategy that presents the case for recruiting and retaining women, sharing stories about the women in your workplace. Consider creating a handbook with the resources in one place with a lens specific to women, at career and life milestones, for easy access and utilization. Celebrate the contributions of the women in your organization, internally as much as in the outside world.

With the right mix of the ideas above, thoughtfully and clearly communicated, women will want to come work with you—and stay.