Over a million workers dropped out of the labor force last month and 865,000 of them were women, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center. That’s four times as many women as men pressing pause on their careers—and often, caregiving responsibilities are the reason.

Even in pre-pandemic times, women did more childcare and housework than men. On an average day in 2019, according to the American Time Use Survey, women put in twice as much time doing housework and a third more time doing food preparation and cleanup. Women also earn less money than men and occupy fewer management roles.

It’s no wonder that in many families, women are the ones who have stepped back from their careers. But this “choice” comes with negative consequences, not only for women’s professional development and families’ bottom lines, but for their employers’ profits and the economy’s growth over time.

Recently, Collabera produced a webinar, “3 Strategies Companies Can Implement NOW to Increase Women In Leadership in 2021,” aimed at helping companies close the leadership gap. Dawn Serpe, Senior Vice President of Collabera, highlighted a famous quote from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

Dawn noted that Ginsburg, “really changed the world for American women. When she began her legal crusade, women were treated by law differently than men. But she was dedicated to making change happen.”

Equity isn’t just about making room for women at the table. It’s about structuring society at home and at work so that men and women can share responsibilities and challenges.

Employers can help. Here’s how.

How Employers Can Support Women During the Pandemic

“The pandemic is putting a lot of pressure on the system of equality,” noted Venus Rekow, founder of Neural Shifts, a consulting firm specialized in helping leaders drive culture change through a Diversity & Inclusion lens. Venus said that the issue is lack of support, including subsidized childcare.

Employers can provide assistance by giving workers flexibility.

“We’ve seen our clients allow women to work off hours in order to take care of their families,” said Stephanie Eldred, Vice President, Direct Hire at Collabera. Some of our tech clients are offering women more money so they can have more diversity within their engineering teams.”

Stephanie added: “We can support women with small children by giving them flexibility to get their work done outside of office hours. More corporations need to be offering day care assistance and maternity and paternity leave.”

Have a Plan to Increase Women in Leadership Roles

Although Stephanie noted that she still sees more women in individual contributor roles than leadership roles, she said that Collabera has seen “a slight increase in female applicants. The option to work 100% remote has given more women the opportunity to get back to work.”

Further, she said that she expects the ability to work from home to “open up more opportunities for women to get into leadership. They will be able to be compassionate and empathic during this time of uncertainty.”

Employers can help by appreciating the value of that empathy.

“The moment that we continue to measure women under a male leadership stereotype, we set women up to fail,” said Venus, noting that women often bring collaboration to the table.

Dawn characterizes the leadership gap as “a complicated problem with many layers.” She encourages employers to focus on three strategic points to improve their gender equity in leadership:

  • Tracking and transparency
  • Engaging men to actively participate
  • Changing company culture

Stephanie added that women can have a positive effect on other women’s participation in leadership.

“Women should support and encourage other women in the workforce,” she said. “If we build each other up, then we’ll start to see more women take leadership roles.”

Advice for Female Professionals Trying to Get Back to Work

If you’re among the hundreds of thousands of women who were laid off or took a step back during the early days of the pandemic, don’t assume that you’re cut off from opportunity. In fact, Stephanie noted that now may be a particularly auspicious time for job searching.

“The holidays are approaching, and people are still hiring,” she said. “Apply now for jobs! We see a drop off in applicants this time of year but hiring managers still need good talent.”

Stephanie recommended connecting on LinkedIn with a few top recruiters in the industry to represent you as well as a hiring manager or HR representative to introduce yourself. She also advised highlighting on your resume if you already have a work-from-home setup (plus, any flexibility to go into the office).

Finally, she cautioned against pricing yourself too low. “We’ve also seen more women ask for a lower salary than men,” she said. “Make sure you ask the company what this role is paying before quoting a salary.”

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