As the pandemic drags on and leaves the world, especially the business world, forever changed, the economic recovery for women looks dreary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics’ January jobs report, the economy added 467,000 jobs, yet only 40% of these jobs went to women age 20 and over. Since the start of the pandemic, many women have left the workforce to take on caregiving duties, or have had to reduce their work hours. As a result, there are now 1.1 million fewer women in the labor force today compared to just two years ago. At the same time, many men have been able to recoup their pandemic-related labor force losses.
As organizations continue to hire employees – and seek to retain staff – companies need to re-evaluate their benefits and perks to ensure they are designed to support women. Building in flexibility and creating leadership opportunities will go a long way in bringing gender equality and breaking gender stereotypes that hold women back in the workplace.
The pandemic has shown the need for companies to create flexibility in the workplace, especially for women. Yet, research found that men are viewed more favorably than women for flexible work arrangements. Women want flexibility in where, when, and how they work. Companies that offer flexible schedules, opportunities to work from home, or part-time positions have the upper hand in recruiting and retaining talented women. Companies that offer non-traditional ways of working can uncover a hidden pool of candidates, as well as open doors to many women that may be seeking employment.
Offer Women REAL leadership opportunities
Study after study has shown the benefits of having women in leadership positions. Women are just as likely as men to be interested in promotions and leadership development opportunities. However, when women turn down leadership opportunities their reasons are different than men’s. Men typically turn down a leadership opportunity because they do not want it, whether it be the role, relocation, longer hours, etc.
However, when women turn down leadership opportunities, their concerns are often rooted in their lack of confidence or because they are unsure about how others in the organization would support them. Unfortunately, women’s intuition on these concerns is justified. Research shows organizations expect women to be more qualified than men for the same positions. And worse, when women are given a leadership opportunity, they often are given “glass cliff” positions — high stakes opportunities that are precarious and have a high chance of failure. Companies must realize these real concerns and challenges and set women up for success in leadership positions, not position them for a position or opportunity that will lead to their downfall.
Break the stereotype of resume gaps
Recently, Prahbha Kannan, managing editor of Siri at Apple, posted her story on LinkedIn and shared how so many women get pigeonholed to be “unemployable”. “With the dreaded ‘resume gap,’ I figured I had no shot at transitioning back to the workforce and doing meaningful, challenging work. But Apple took a chance on me.”
Apple also gave her a leadership opportunity in a male-dominated industry, even after her seven year employment gap. In Kannan’s post she urged recruiters and hiring managers to consider candidates that have a resume gap. Companies must break the stigma on women with resume gaps. As of January 2022, nearly 1 out of 4 unemployed women, ages 20 and over, have been out of work for 6 months or longer. As companies recruit talent, they need to consider women who have career gaps and are trying to re-enter the workforce.
As International Women’s Day approaches on March 8, I encourage leaders and companies to explore ways to support women in the workforce. At Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, our Center for Women in Leadership is dedicated to leveling the playing field, preparing women to successfully take on leadership opportunities, and to help others through mentorship.
The benefits of supporting women in the workplace are enormous: narrowing the gender gap and moving toward gender equality can add between $12 to $28 trillion in global GDP. Companies with gender diversity and with more women leaders see an increase in profit, employee retention, and have higher levels of employee job satisfaction. By providing women with work flexibility, leadership opportunities, and putting an end to stereotypes, together we can break down barriers many women face and move towards an equitable society.
This guest post was authored by Bernice Ledbetter
Bernice Ledbetter, Ed.D, is Dean of Students, Director, Center for Women in Leadership and Faculty, Organizational Theory and Management