The COVID-19 pandemic upended lives in countless ways, but none more so than women in the workplace. Different from any other modern recession, in which working men lost more jobs than women did or men and women were equally affected, women experienced the lion’s share of employment losses during the COVID-induced recession.
Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Research, coined the employment shift the “SHEcession.”
Factors Driving the SHEcession
Two main factors drove the phenomenon: The crisis pummeled industries that employ higher numbers of women, like hospitality and retail, eliminating their jobs and forcing them out of the workplace. COVID-19 also temporarily shut down schools and daycares, sending kids home and making it harder for mothers (who tend to shoulder the majority of childcare duties) to maintain outside-the-home jobs.
In February 2021, the women’s labor force participation rate hit 57% – a 33-year low and a setback for gender diversity in the workplace. And, while women increasingly are rejoining the labor ranks as virtual learning and school closures decrease, there’s a long way to go before their participation reaches pre-pandemic employment levels.
There were still 1.1 million fewer women in the workforce at the end of January 2022 than there were in February 2020, while men have recovered all of their job losses driven by the pandemic. That’s a problem for employers because studies show that gender-diverse teams – and, overall, companies themselves – outperform those weighted heavily toward one sex or the other.
One of the most effective ways to boost your bottom line, then, is to hire more women who bring highly desirable traits to their jobs, including collaboration and empathy. Women generally tend to be effective communicators with high emotional intelligence who create organizational advantages, like higher employee engagement and retention.
How To Reverse an Internal SHEcession
The benefits of gender diversity are obvious, so organizations – especially smaller businesses that need every advantage they can create – can benefit from getting more women back to work. Here are the top three tips for companies looking to reverse an internal SHEcession:
Be FlexibleYou’ve likely been hearing a lot about how important flexibility in the workplace is now. Many businesses will never return to traditional 9-to-5 office hours, since the pandemic dispelled preconceived notions about when and how – and how effectively – work gets done.
Employees in most industries increasingly expect to have telecommuting or hybrid schedule options, which are particularly helpful to women, who often have elevated responsibilities for raising children, caring for older family members or running a household in addition to their work duties. Employers are wise to respond with policies that allow at least some remote work arrangements and flex time.
Support Work-Life BalanceBurnout is real and – for all the reasons touched on in this post – women can get overwhelmed with everything they have to get done both personally and professionally.
The pandemic made us more aware than ever before that people have lives outside of work. Maintaining manageable workloads for everyone, both men and women, will reduce work-induced stress and disengagement levels.
Offer More Benefits if at all Possible – Especially Those That Women Need MostExamples include financial assistance with childcare expenses, paid and adequate maternity leave, networking opportunities, job training and upskilling, retirement planning resources and mental health coverage.
Besides women, businesses that lack gender diversity in their ranks are the real casualties in the SHEcession. Women bring proven value and desirable skills to the workplace, and companies that don’t employ enough of them simply will not be as successful as they could be.
To attract and retain more women, employers must create an inclusive environment that meets unique needs. Workplace policies and procedures should be family-friendly, and managers should proactively support and create professional advancement opportunities for women.