Nearly 2.5 million women left the U.S. labor force in the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic. That figure is about 500,000 higher than men, who likewise are neither working nor actively looking for work.
With women often the primary caregivers at home, some left the workforce due to child care needs, as schools and day care centers were closed. Now as normalcy edges closer due to vaccinations and more jobs become available, business leaders should address how they can bring more women back to work while adjusting to their post-COVID home and work dynamics. If we as CEOs and entrepreneurs want to capture the best talent and be forward thinkers, then we have to get ahead of the curve. One important way of doing that is through the inclusivity of women, and what that means in the changing work dynamics of the post-COVID world.
Based on today’s environment, there’s a maternal instinct, and women are more likely to stay home with their children, mothers or grandmothers than men are. Companies need to recognize that and determine how to leverage opportunities for women within their company culture. For women who have to stay home for a variety of reasons, it’s vital for businesses and company growth to meet them where they are.
Here are three ways that business leaders can adapt and better support women who return to work:
- Be proactive and flexible with a remote/office model. Thirty years ago, large corporations built day care centers inside their facilities and many female employees stayed. Now, companies are rethinking the office environment as a hybrid of remote and in-office work.
There has been much talk of the government expanding the social safety net for child care and guaranteed paid leave. But rather than rely on the government to dictate how we respond, the most nimble and proactive companies will respond first. Whether the model is two, three or five days a week for remote workers, companies must create the environments that best help them attract and retain the best talent while maintaining an optimum work culture.
- Reexamine jobs and policies to improve work/life balance. Weathering the COVID experience should give employers extra appreciation for their most valued employees, and they should show that appreciation by how they address remote work. Company leaders should respect those workers’ needs to work remotely, at least part-time, or full-time when necessary, for family reasons.
That means giving them more manageable workloads, perhaps changing their job or rewriting their job description, increased flexibility on work hours and well-being policies so that all remote workers can maintain productivity without burning out.
- Align teams with the right people and stay connected with them. Some workers who were furloughed will return to their former jobs; others’ jobs may have changed slightly or dramatically. Company leaders must explore both their employees’ capabilities in adjusted or all-new roles and monitor team cohesion while weighing everyone’s comfort level.
Communication is ever-important as valued workers return and adjust. Focus on their strengths and respect that they’re in a phase of transition. You don’t want them to leave again. Leaders must consistently check in with employees to learn what they need to succeed.
The social environment has changed under COVID. We need to be nimble enough as leaders to keep our businesses attractive to the best and the brightest, the new hires and returnees, while realizing some people have to work from home.
Doug Meyer-Cuno is an entrepreneur, mentor and ForbesBooks author of The Recipe For Empowered Leadership: 25 Ingredients For Creating Value & Empowering Others. He founded a food ingredients distribution company, Carolina Ingredients, and expanded it into a nationally recognized and award-winning industrial seasoning manufacturer before it was acquired by Mitsubishi in 2019. Since then he has founded Empowered Leadership, which helps entrepreneurs, business owners and CEOs scale their companies by empowering their teams. Meyer-Cuno earned his BA in international commerce from Furman University and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s owner/president management program.