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How to Retain Female Employees During the Great “She-cession”

Posted by Dawn White on Sep 28, 2021 8:21:43 AM
Dawn White
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A new report shows that diversity in the workplace pays off. McKinsey & Co. found that more diverse organizations see higher profits than their less diverse competitors. But while we’re making progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) overall, there’s one area where diversity is taking a step back — female workers. Throughout the pandemic, nearly three million American women left the workforce, accounting for 55% of overall job loss.

Retaining women workers in your organization isn’t just good for your employees, or good for your diversity image. It makes good business sense. High retention rates keep operational costs down and help ensure productivity stays high. It’s also good for your employee morale and a strong corporate culture.

In a time when staffing shortages are increasing and your customers are paying more attention to your diversity efforts, “the Great She-cession” (as it’s being called) could have long term implications for your organization and your recruiting efforts.

Why Are Women Leaving the Workforce?

The pandemic has caused a large percentage of female employees to drop out of the workforce for two major reasons:

  • Women predominantly work in the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, such as services, hospitality, and retail.
  • Stay-at-home children require more supervision, whether they’re preschool age or doing school virtually. Many experts are calling the lack of childcare a crisis.

During the pandemic, as employees were working at home, parents were able to share household duties and childcare in an equitable manner. But when workers are called back into the office, families are unwilling to go back to a lifestyle where they have to choose between their children and their jobs. As a result, women are leaving their careers — even at the executive level.

While many employers are losing many of their brightest minds and best performers, progressive organizations are finding ways to retain female employees. Let’s take a look at several practical ways your company can keep women at your workplace.

How to Retain Your Female Employees

Listen to your employees

Employers need to listen to and understand their employees. There’s been an emphasis recently on knowing the customer, but there’s a greater need than ever to understand the changing needs and concerns of employees.

Find out what your female employees need from your organization and what will incentivize them to stay at your company.

Also consider how your back-to-work decisions may be impacting your employees’ personal lives. If you require workers to come back onsite, it will probably cause disruptions in their personal lives. Be aware of the cost your employees are paying before you make policy decisions related to remote work and flexible schedules.

While working from home, men and women together shared the parenting responsibilities, and many families want to maintain that arrangement. That means companies need to consider how to allow flexibility at work so that employees can maintain the sanity that workers achieved during the pandemic.

Trends show that more and more people are looking for jobs that allow them to work remotely, for that very reason. If your company doesn’t allow remote work, you may find yourself continually understaffed and struggling to hire quality employees.

Offer mentoring

Women in the workplace need to support and invest into one another. Mentoring relationships can help each other to deal with the mom guilt and the childcare juggling, as only other women can do — while also providing support for career development.

Allow and encourage female employees to attend conferences and summits about women in the workforce. Debrief with colleagues and leaders in the organization to find opportunities within your organization.

Start a mothers’ support group within your organization. This group can provide resources, support, and helpful advice for navigating both motherhood and work. Motherhood can be isolating, especially when you plan to go back to work. Having a group of people in the same company who have been through the same experience can be tremendously helpful.

Review your benefits

Evaluate your benefits policy. How much are you charging for your family health plan? Does your plan include child health supplements? Do you provide onsite childcare or childcare subsidies? Some companies are providing paid time off for menstruation and menopause.

Few companies offer paternity leave, and most offer the bare minimum maternity leave of only 12 weeks — and 80 percent of the time it’s unpaid.

Provide a designated lactation room for new moms to pump. Some states require lactation rooms in workplaces, but sometimes the designated room is just an empty conference room. A lactation room should be private, with a place to sit and pump, a sink for washing the pumps, and a refrigerator for storing the milk.

Make a plan for maternity leaves — ahead of time

The way that a female employee is treated in the months leading up to her maternity leave — as well as the days during and just after the leave — are tremendously influential in whether or not she stays at your company when she comes back to work.

Many organizations assume that new mothers will resign after their maternity leaves, but that assumption can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Companies that have a clear understanding of women’s goals and expectations can see a much higher retention rate — and much lower disruption of productivity and profitability.

Follow these best practices to set women up for a successful return to work, before maternity leave begins:

  • Discuss their goals, expectations, and anxieties about returning to work.
  • Develop a plan for transitioning responsibilities during the exit and the return.
  • Lease workers from a temporary staffing agency during the maternity leave. This prevents the team from extra burdens while clearly communicating that your employee’s position will be available when she returns.
  • Communicate the plan with team members and solicit their questions and input.
  • Be sure it’s clear how the leave will affect any merit or bonus pay.

Also develop a program that allows a stepwise return to work over a reasonable time. Building in a transition allows the family to get adjusted, and helps your female employee to realize that it’s okay to be a working mom.

Alleviate childcare anxieties

According to the Center for American Progress, half of U.S. families report difficulty finding childcare. Since 2020, that number has grown due to widespread closings of childcare centers during the pandemic.

Ease the burden by allowing employees to check in at home with a nanny cam or to log onto daycare camera feeds.

If your company is large enough, consider providing a childcare center onsite at your organization. Since many childcare centers have closed down, this perk has tremendous incentivizing power in retaining female employees.

Pay women what they’re worth

Look at what you’re paying women at your company and ensure they’re being compensated equitably. If someone in the household needs to stay home, it will be the lowest wage earner.

Women in the workforce earn two percent less than men with the same job and qualifications. For a professional salaried employee, that could be as much as $1,500 per year, or more.

Make Gender Diversity a Priority

Gender diversity (as well as all other aspects of diversity) is no longer a nice-to-have concept in the workplace. Employers are expected to hire and retain diverse talent, and they’re being held accountable to that. It also makes good business sense to retain your best workers!

The key to retaining women in the workforce and improving your company’s diversity is simple. Be flexible and invest in your workers’ professional development. Communicate their value, and don’t assume that mom guilt will drive them back home.

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