Women have gained footing in the professional world for decades, but we’ve lost some critical ground in recent years. For leaders who are ready to make a concerted change in 2023, here’s a look at why and how to get serious about promoting and retaining women.
Who We Lost: 2020
We all saw how 2020 affected the world. With the pandemic, life at home brought greater responsibilities like school and elder care. The exhaustion that working parents managed during this time was palpable, and a large number of women took on full-time caretaking roles.
According to Oxfam’s analysis of the International Labor Organization’s data, women around the globe lost 64 million jobs in 2020, a 5% loss. For men, the loss was 3.9%. Black women and Latinx women made up nearly half of those pandemic workforce losses.
Who Resigned: 2021
2021 was a year of loss for employers. The Great Resignation saw millions of people quitting their jobs each month. However, women’s quit rates were higher than men’s according to findings from payroll provider Gusto. Remote work, flexible hours, better pay and growth opportunities were all on the table in 2021 as employers looked to fill quickly widening workforce gaps and women sought out opportunities that made sense for them.
Who Returned: 2022
By 2022, gains were made in women’s labor force participation but still lagged behind participation highs. Between 2002 and 2010, women’s labor force participation reached its peak, hovering between 60% and 61%, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a big difference from today. As of December 2022, labor force participation for women was at 58.1% while it was 70.4% for men.
Retaining Women: The Real Challenge
Bringing women back is both an equity and an economic issue. The U.S. workforce needs skilled talent. Educated, skilled women are not scarce in the U.S.
Women are enrolling in college and graduating at higher rates than men, according to findings from Pew Research Center. That makes them a valuable, knowledgeable talent pool that the economy and their families and communities are counting on. Businesses too are counting on women to fill entry-level positions and individual contributor roles, but then the momentum stops.
According to the McKinsey and LeanIn “Women in the Workplace 2022” report, women are given fewer opportunities for promotion. For every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level positions to management roles, only 87 women are promoted. This lack of mobility drove much of the movement during the Great Resignation and is a reminder to employers that it will take serious work to make the future workplace more inclusive and fix the broken rungs obstructing the corporate ladder for women.
How To Do Things Differently In 2023
For businesses ready to make 2023 a year of fortifying the ranks of women at all levels in their organizations, here are several suggestions on how to get started:
1. Talk to women in your organization—at all levels—and ask them questions.
Find out what’s working and what’s not in terms of career growth, flexibility and culture. When women are leaving the organization, find out why. This research process should provide plenty of insight into how you can improve parental leave, work conditions for caretakers, upskilling, mentoring and more.
2. Focus on recognition and succession.
To stamp out inequities, you must first identify the inequities by asking critical questions:
• How are promotion and succession plans built? Is it equitable and unbiased?
• Who is winning awards and bonuses and why?
• Do the people put on those lists reflect the workforce? Are women a smaller portion? Are women of color even more so?
3. Gather and analyze data around gender representation.
If inequity is in the data, there’s the starting point for rooting out the limitations that hold women back and rebuilding programs to fairly include everyone.
4. Use surveys to better understand the culture of the company.
Is what the business says about its culture in alignment with the employee experience? Does that experience change based on an employee’s gender? Do meeting culture, committee work and team socializing welcome and include everyone?
Be sure to include open-ended response areas to capture unforeseen issues and invite ideas for improving company culture and engagement.
5. Foster mentorship and apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are powerful programs for developing talent and skills, yet women are severely underrepresented. According to findings from Apprenticeship USA, women make up only about 14% of active apprenticeships. This means huge opportunities for women in apprenticeships.
Build an apprenticeship program focused on bolstering the ranks of women in the areas where the business struggles to hire and retain women (engineering, tech, etc.).
By providing an apprenticeship program, you can not only develop women for their next roles (in your organization or elsewhere) but also use the program as a way to set your company apart from the competition for talent. Apprenticeships are a fast-tracked and personalized method of training and development, so track the data around your program and tout its benefits in your employer branding and recruitment practices.
It’s Time To Take Action
The longer we take to improve working conditions for women, the more great talent will leave organizations and lose out on economic opportunity (for the individual and greater society).
We need to focus on setting up a workplace culture that:
• Brings back many women workers who left.
• Builds a strong pipeline of young women.
• Retains women for the long term.
• Promotes women to leadership positions.
If U.S. business leadership continues to be complacent about the gender disparities in the workplace, we’ll continue to stagnate and potentially return to the workplaces of the past.
“Why 2023 Has To Be The Year Of Women In The Workplace” originally appeared on Forbes.com.