6 Ways to Keep Women in the Workforce

Christa Feazell
8 Mar

In the past year, 1 out of 4 women have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce entirely. This is a key finding of recent research, marking a dangerous slippery slope in women’s status in the workforce. 

It’s no secret that the pandemic had a harsh impact on women; in 2020, more women were laid off than men, with Black and Latina women being the hardest hit. Recent research shows there is a pressing issue that could undermine years of work towards gender parity. Millions of women are leaving the workforce, and this leak in the pipeline could cost us an entire generation of female leaders. 

In order to address this problem, we need ground breaking changes that address the root causes. Businesses can’t wait to focus on gender equity. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges women across the globe face, and swift action is necessary. 

There is a silver lining to this situation: businesses have the opportunity to create real, meaningful changes that will shape the workforce for decades to come. Real change starts small. Gender parity isn’t achieved overnight, but we can’t wait until 2056 (when experts estimate gender pay will finally even out) especially not when the workforce is hemorrhaging female talent. But the implementation of small, meaningful changes in the workplace can be enough to move the needle and ease the challenges women in the workforce face. 

Here are six changes you can start implementing in your office to keep women in the workplace. Because the time is now.

1. Educate Leadership

women, woman boss, women at work

“No one has ever asked an actor, 'You're playing a strong-minded man.' We assume that men are strong-minded, or have opinions. But a strong-minded woman is a different animal.”
—Meryl Streep, 60 Minutes, December 2011

Change starts at, and is reinforced by, those at the top of the company. However, lip service from executives isn’t enough. Even if the executive team is invested in diversity and wants to create gender parity within the office, there must be a clear plan in place to create a path for these future women leaders. All managers and team leaders need to be educated not only about the benefits of gender diversity, and the catastrophic impacts of bias, but also about day to day conduct and how to make women comfortable to purse their work and how these factor into every step in the employment process. 

From recruitment to hiring to retention, ensure your managers, at every level, know how to create action plans that will enable women to become future company leaders. 

2. Start a Conversation

“We need more diversity. We're not telling the stories of many, we're telling the stories of few. There's a problem with the storytelling, with the protagonists...it's in front of the camera, it's behind the camera...This is not how we want to be working and we need to tell the stories of all.”
—Jessica Chastain, HuffPost Live, October 2015
woman speaking, woman presenting

It’s no secret that there can be a disconnect between how men perceive women’s issues, especially in the workplace. Most of this disconnect is due to a lack of information or knowledge about the subject. Host open discussions within your company where women can share their experiences and have honest conversations about the realities of the workplace. 

Polite, candid conversations can shed light on what the business needs to work on and allow employees to learn more about the obstacles their colleagues face. 

3. Ask and Listen

“I'm over trying to find the 'adorable' way to state my opinion and still be likable! F#ck that. I don't think I've ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. It's just heard.”
— Jennifer Lawrence, Lenny, October 2015

Instead of theorizing what challenges your female employees face, consider actually asking them. The answers may surprise you. Conduct interviews, send out an anonymous survey, and gather feedback from the women in your company. Their answers may surprise you. Many problems, such as a lack of childcare for working moms, are universal problems. But you may also discover other issues that your organization needs to address, such as an uncomfortable work environment or a lack of women in management.  You can also form and create ERGs designed to specifically address issues that working moms can face in the workplace. 

However you solicit feedback from your employees, be sure to create an actionable plan to address their pain points. It’s not enough to ask for feedback.You also need to listen to what they say. 

4. Enable Working Mothers

“I have these meetings with really powerful men and they ask me all the time, 'Where are your kids? Are your kids here?' It's such a weird question. Never in a million years do I ask guys where their kids are. It would be comparable to me going to a guy, 'Do you feel like you see your kids enough?'”
— Amy Poehler, Fast Company, June 2015 issue

Too often the conversation centers around working mothers trying to “have it all,” but rarely do we ask ourselves what businesses can do to help them. Every working parent has to pull double duty at home and at work, but women especially face difficulties when it comes to childcare. 

Consider the ways your business can support working moms. Flexible scheduling, for example, allows working moms to organize their day in the way that works best for them and their families. Forbidding late nights and evening meetings benefits all parents, allowing them to focus on dinner and family time rather than work. Assistance with childcare costs helps your employees balance work and family, enabling them to better focus on work when it’s time to. 

However your organization chooses to support working moms, make sure you’re doing something. It’s time to stop expecting women to be superhuman and enable them to succeed at work and at home. 

5. Hire and Promote More Women

“As long as women make up only 20 percent of Congress, as long as senior movie studio execs are 93 percent male, and only four percent of studio films are directed by women; as long as the President of the United States, the VP, the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tem, the Secretaries of State, of the Treasury, of Defense, are all men—you have to go seven layers down to find a woman, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, on the succession plan—then I'd say, Yes, we need 'women's media.' We need as many 'women in' gatherings that we can dream up.”
— Ava Duvernay, ELLEWomen in Hollywood Awards, October 2015

Too often women’s careers fall prey to the “broken rung” in the corporate ladder. Women are less likely to be promoted out of entry-level roles, stalling their career growth. Male managers are more likely to promote other men, whereas female managers are significantly more likely to hire and promote more women. To create a gender inclusive workplace, businesses must identify where the “broken rungs” in the ladder are and repair them. 

Take a close look at your business’s leadership and management. Are employees seeing women leaders and meeting them in the hiring process? Are women key decision makers in multiple departments? If not, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Promoting and hiring more women to leadership positions is one of the fastest and simplest ways to create a gender inclusive workplace. 

6. Create an Inclusive Culture

“Having your story told as a woman, as a person of color, as a lesbian, or as a trans person or as any member of any disenfranchised community is sadly often still a radical idea.”
— Kerry Washington, during her GLAAD Vanguard Award acceptance speech, March 2015

A homogenous workforce can lead to a toxic workplace culture where those not in the “in-group” are belittled, dismissed, and overlooked. “Bro culture” has driven many talented female professionals from leading companies. Overt and casual misogyny have no place in the modern office. Playing into gender stereotypes, a tolerance for rough or sexual language, and exclusion from professional and social activities based on gender are all bad for business in more ways than one. 

A toxic bro culture is a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. Diverse companies are more profitable, innovative, and more likely to capture new markets. A toxic company culture drives off new talent, often creating an expensive revolving door when it comes to recruitment and hiring. This sort of environment isn’t sustainable for a successful business, and will ultimately stall or stop growth. 

For companies to truly succeed and hire talented women leaders, they need to create an inclusive environment where all employees feel comfortable and welcome. 

Bring Women Back to the Table

Combatting the damage the 2020 pandemic has caused to women’s careers will take a concerted effort. Years of research and work towards gender parity have revealed that women are a vital component of every workforce in the world. Unless we want to lose a generation of talented female leaders, businesses need to band together to bring women back into the workforce and into leadership roles. 

Gender diversity isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight. But by soliciting feedback, having open conversations, creating an inclusive workplace, and bringing women into management, companies can create an environment where diversity can flourish. 

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