Should We Be Alarmed About a Mass Exodus of Women From the Workplace?
It’s probably not news to anyone to hear that U.S. workforce participation has fallen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone who works in—or knows someone who works in—the hospitality industry, for instance, can readily attest to that. And many are probably also aware that the job losses and exits from the workforce are not evenly distributed across the American population.
For example, women have been particularly hard hit.
Women in the Workforce Declining
The National Women’s Law Center provides some numbers to illustrate a startling trend. “In January, 275,000 women left the labor force, meaning they are no longer working or looking for work,” according to a report published by the NWLC. According to the article, since the pandemic emerged, more than 2.3 million women have left the workforce. The women’s labor force participation rate is at 57%--at its lowest point since 1988. “By comparison, nearly 1.8 million men have left the labor force since February 2020,” the article says.
These numbers highlight the career challenges faced by both the individual women making up these aggregated numbers, in addition to women as a group. On an individual level, those who leave and later try to rejoin the workforce have a significantly harder time finding a job relative to those that do not have a gap in employment history.
Fewer Women in the Leadership Pipeline
Comprehensively, this could certainly signal a long-term reduction in the representation of women in the workplace. In terms of broader gender diversity and equality, declining numbers of women in the workforce means not just fewer female staff, but fewer female leaders, role models and mentors.
When there are fewer of any demographic cohort in the pipeline there will, subsequently, be fewer of this cohort represented in leadership ranks.
Taking Steps to Stem the Tide
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous physical, mental and emotional hardship for millions across the country. While no socio-economic or demographic group has been spared, some have been much harder hit than others.
HR departments, managers and employers generally need to be cognizant of the disparate impacts the pandemic has had on different groups. Failing to do so could result in losing much of the ground the nation has made in diversity and inclusion in recent decades.
How have your actions since the pandemic began potentially impacted women in unintended ways? What can you do now to help stem the outflow of women from the workforce and ensure their representation in the leadership pipeline is secure?
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