Employers Must Take Immediate and Meaningful Action to Turn the Tide

My first job was in a male-dominated field. I was just twelve when I snagged a paper route and became a very committed carrier. Sure, it was traditionally a job for boys, but the world was changing. Slowly.

Later, my mother, who returned to school and entered the accounting field when I left for college, advised me to pursue a career as a doctor, lawyer, or CPA. She believed that one of those professions might allow me to take a break to raise a family if I chose to—and re-enter the workforce when I was ready.

Unfortunately, too few companies have policies that enable women (or men) to balance work and care-giving responsibilities. A gap in a resume after a woman has dedicated herself to raising children or helping elderly parents can still be a red flag to many employers. This lack of support is driving women out of the workforce and COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem.

Prior to the pandemic, women made up more than 50 percent of the country’s workforce. But since the pandemic, 400,000 more women than men have left the workforce. As daycare centers closed and remote learning became the norm, many women had to leave their jobs. By September 2020, 80 percent of the 1.1 million people who had exited the workforce were women.

Employers must take immediate and meaningful action to turn the tide.

Some companies are offering returnships that allow people to come back to a job that requires similar experience. They brush up their skills, get paid modestly, and if successful, receive a job offer at market rate. But employers must do much more to lure women back, including work/life flexibility and expanded childcare assistance.

My own trajectory has been a learning experience in life/work balance. I took maternity leave twice, but never a long hiatus. I left a big law firm for a corporate job, so I could have more balance. I also turned down a promotion that would have demanded more time, because I needed to be present at home. The lesson: Careers are not always linear and that’s okay.

I like to think the world has evolved since my days as a “paper girl.” Women have proven we can succeed at jobs traditionally held by men. And those temporary shifts in direction—whether raising children or volunteering for the Peace Corps—bring fresh perspectives that employers should value.