The year 2020 had so much information on a wide range of issues that major news stories broke every day. Amidst COVID’s impact on the economy, it might have slipped by that 617,000 women workers left the U.S. workforce in September of 2020 and nearly 200,000 left in August. Half of these women were between the ages of 35 to 44, which is considered prime working age. That total is eight times greater than the 78,000 men who left during September.
This large number partially explains why the unemployment numbers stayed steady or dropped in late summer and early fall — the number of dropouts involved workers leaving work or no longer seeking employment, which is a different categorization than unemployed workers.
Why is this happening?
There are many factors involved, some obvious and some not:
- Family: The majority of women who work also hold the bulk of the responsibility for taking care of their families and potentially elderly parents.
- The economy: The downturn means fewer high-paying jobs that make it economically feasible to work outside of the house.
- Pay disparity: Pay disparity remains a stubborn issue for women. In dual-income families, the lower-earning spouse is more likely to leave the workforce.
- Types of jobs: Women workers are more dominant in professions that were hit had by the pandemic, including healthcare, education, hospitality and entertainment.
The impact on employers and employees
Having a smaller pool of talent who are actively seeking work means that potential employers have fewer (and perhaps less capable) choices. Some also believe that the smaller amount of women in the hiring pool mean that it will take longer for the economy to recover. Women employees may also effectively stall their careers, which will likely impact their long-term financial goals for retirement assets and saving accounts.
Businesses need to be proactive
In today’s business culture, past employment policies may not adequately address current diversity concerns. The laws are more stringent than they have been in the past. Eventually things will open back up, so companies should start planning now how they will get women back into their workforce by creating new policies for the gender pay gap, job flexibility that accommodates a work-home balance and other challenges.
Businesses may want to consult with an employment law attorney on compliance issues and company policies to better attract top-tier female talent for jobs at all levels within the company.