More than just remote work: How companies can keep women in the workforce

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Corporate America needs a fresh start.

This is what proponents are calling for, as working parents – especially women – are looking for more flexibility and other changes to balance work and family.

“This pandemic has turned the workplace upside down,” said Amber Clayton, director of the Society for Human Resource Management’s knowledge center.

“It has changed the needs and priorities of employers and employees.”

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Women were hit the hardest. They have borne the brunt of the pandemic job losses and have stepped down from their careers to take care of children who suddenly left school. The end result is a lower participation rate, which has not been seen since 1988.

“Smart companies are realizing that they are better off with more women in the workplace,” said Karen Fichuk, CEO of Atlanta-based recruitment firm Randstad North America.

To keep women in the workforce, companies may need to adjust policies and leadership strategies.

Offer flexibility

Flexibility – both in terms of working hours and the ability to work from home – is the most successful approach Fichuk companies have seen in attracting and retaining women.

It seems like a trend that will continue.

According to a new survey by global outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, more than 84% of companies offer flexibility during the pandemic. From March 2nd to March 12th, 201 HR managers from companies of various sizes and sectors were surveyed nationwide.

When asked if the flexibility would extend beyond the pandemic, 95% said some or all of the items would persist.

About 84% said they will keep remote working options for their teams.

Adjust the tone from above

There is also a fear of expressing yourself. About a third of parents said they feared losing their jobs if they reported the stress of the workload during care and schooling to their employer during the pandemic. This was the result of a report by Apres and the NUA Group from May 2020.

Executives need to send a message that it’s okay to use corporate programs designed to promote healthy work environments, the report says.

This includes setting a good example and increasing support through constant messaging. You should also lead with empathy.

“They really have to do the job of putting levers on their managers to pull to hold women when they come up to them and say, ‘I have to research something else,'” said Stacey Delo, co-author of “Your Turn”: Careers, Kids, and Comebacks – A Guide for Working Mothers “and CEO of Après, a website that provides career resources for women returning to work.

Childcare assistance

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Childcare costs sometimes keep some women away from work as their salary may not even cover the cost. Others may face a lack of options – roughly half of American families with young children live in a childcare desert, according to a 2018 analysis by the Center for American Progress.

While companies can’t shoulder the full burden of childcare costs for their employees, they can play a role, Fichuk said.

“There’s an ecosystem approach to this,” she said.

“When companies offer referral services or childcare grants, it’s a key driver of customer loyalty.”

Skills training

So many of the jobs lost during the pandemic will never return, Fichuk said.

“We need to teach them new skills or help them transfer the skills they have,” she said.

If we can’t figure that out, we have really failed women who have worked so hard to get where they are.

For example, someone in the hospitality industry will have fantastic customer service skills. With some technical training, they can get a job in customer service or customer support.

The key is to find that demand and supply, make the match, and fill the void with skill training.

“We all – employers, authorities, the government – have the opportunity to fill the gap,” said Fichuk.

The final result

The pandemic has opened the eyes of many employers to the needs and struggles of working women, as well as the ability to work from home and still be productive, proponents say.

So now is the time to make these changes to keep women or to bring women back into the workforce.

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