Women in the Workplace: Return, Retain & ReinvigoratePublished: 2022-12-08
The return to office may feel a little different than expected. With one quick look around, companies are noticing the absence of many female employees. Since the start of the pandemic, women have left the workforce at an alarming rate, many with no plans of returning.
Considering the state of the current economy, why would so many women leave their jobs? The answer is rather complex, with many company and organization leaders sadly struggling to find the reason. With many contributing factors to the mass exodus of women from the workforce, will companies be able to convince women to come back to work?
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many working women found themselves with increased workloads both at their jobs and at home. With round-the-clock duties, women were experiencing accelerated burnout. Even with the increased workloads, women in the workplace have continued to excel – hitting goals and scoring high on performance reviews. Despite being invaluable and essential for a company’s growth and success, the undiluted truth is, the workplace is not an inclusive place for all women.
Women still experience sexual and physical harassment, are still being paid significantly less than their male counterparts and are finding upward mobility can be a huge challenge. It’s no wonder that many women have had enough. Their exit from the workplace has made a resounding statement. We can’t ignore the fact that misogyny still roams free in some workplaces.
Companies are seeing increased employee turnover rates as more women, especially women leaders, are leaving. According to the Women in the Workplace 2022 report, “Women are demanding more from work, and they’re leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers to get it.” Being undermined, dealing with microaggressions, and not feeling comfortable to voice concerns continues to have a severe, negative impact on the mental health of women leaders.
Women with intersecting identities such as minority women and LGBTQ+ women deal with these challenges as well as the biases that others hold regarding their race and sexual orientation – which in turn, creates a more hostile work environment for these individuals.
We are seeing the resurgence of the women’s suffrage movement within the workforce. Women are making a resounding statement with their exit from companies and from the workforce all together. An unprecedented 5.3 million women have dropped out of the workforce. This mass exodus is showing no signs of slowing down. Companies are already feeling the impact of the absence of women in the workplace with the loss of talent, strong work ethic and dedication.
How can we get more women to return to the workforce?
Making organizational goals to hire more women and women from marginalized communities, such as women of color and LGBTQ+ women is an absolute must. The talent pool flows endlessly with highly qualified women as potential candidates in all industries. Platforms such as The Mom Project and The Female Factor connect companies with a variety of talented women looking for new roles.
Relationship building with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) along with minority groups at predominately white institutions (PWIs) sends a clear message to women of color that they are wanted, valued and needed within organizations.
With women playing many roles both at home and at work, companies need to convey the importance of a healthy work-life balance.
“Creating a work environment where women feel comfortable showing up as their whole selves, allows them to thrive as the intersectional beings that they are,” says Lenna Turner, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging at Salary.com.
How can we empower women in the workplace to retain them?
Companies need to not only make a bigger commitment, but also follow through by creating an inclusive work environment where women truly belong and receive equal pay. In addition, it is imperative that women, especially women of color are being promoted. It is not enough to just hire from a diverse pool.
“Companies need to be strategic in getting women to come back and stay in the workforce,” Turner said. “In order to get women to come back, a commitment to, and follow-through, with pay equity and pay transparency needs to be established.”
In addition, women returning to the workforce need to be assured that there are opportunities for growth within their companies with succession planning. Succession planning is a process of developing talent to replace executive, leadership, or other key employees when they transition to another role, leave the company, are fired, retire, or die.
“Putting women in succession pipelines by giving them training and having them attend conferences and/or enrolling in career development courses is an excellent way to ensure readiness of women leaders,” Turner said.
Listening to women, and creating actionable items based on the feedback women in the workplace give, is another way to ensure the longevity of women in the workforce. Human resources departments aren’t just there to protect the best interests of the company, they also focus on the wellbeing and advancement of their employees. At a recent HR conference, Khady Gaye, Jess Von Bank and Mackenzie Wilson emphasized the importance of human relations over human resources, retaining women in the workplace, as well as the important role men play in the process.
“Be a voice not an echo. It requires one person to create that ripple effect and amplify the actions,” Gaye said. “The time is now and requires everyone to be part of this human transformational journey.”
How can we reinvigorate women in the workplace?
Reinvigoration happens when company leaders and HR boldly champion women. In addition to promoting women, Turner said visibility is key.
“Women, especially women leaders, should be given the opportunity to be seen and heard,” she said.
Establishing employee resource groups (ERGs) is another great way to reinvigorate women. ERGs allow for a safe space where employees can have their voice heard and their opinions valued. It also serves as an accountability tool for company leaders to make sure the work environment is a diverse, equitable and inclusive one for all employees.
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