As 2022 progresses, the status of women in the workforce remains in flux. As in the workforce overall, they’re continuing to deal with the ripple effects of COVID-related slowdowns and job market issues. Still, issues disproportionately affecting women can’t be brushed off as mere statistics – they must be considered and addressed.
According to Fortune, the January 2022 jobs report showed that 275,000 women left the workforce that month. The resulting numbers put the women’s workplace participation rate at 57%—a rate that had not been seen since 1988, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic only served to further reinforce existing gender disparities in the workforce. Women in the workforce are already underpaid compared to their male counterparts; the 2020 census data put the gender wage gap at 82 cents for women per every dollar earned by a man – and that gap widens as women age. It’s also worth noting that, according to Pew Research, the hardest-hit group has been women with a high school diploma or less education – already a more vulnerable group and one that many of our franchise clients depend upon. So when COVID hit and families suddenly had to handle unexpected schooling and childcare needs, it simply “made sense” for women, more often the lower-paid spouses in different-gender couples, to be the ones to step away from their jobs.
That decision, however, continues to have ripple effects. Women who left their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic may be coming up on two years of unemployment in 2022. According to a survey from ResumeGo, the largest decrease in callback rates existed between applicants with 2-year work gaps and applicants with 3-year work gaps: a 53.1% decrease, from a 9.8% callback rate to just 4.6%. In other words: because of pre-existing biases in the workforce, women were more likely to bear the professional burden of the pandemic, and because of more pre-existing biases, that same workforce is going to be even harder to re-enter.
These issues of gender inequality are inextricably linked to major issues in the workforce across the board in 2022. Remote, hybrid, and flexible work options are on the table more than ever. A recent PwC survey revealed that over 55% of respondents, surveyed between November and December 2020, would prefer to be remote at least three days per week. In theory, those options could alleviate some of the inequality that has plagued many workplaces – not just for women, but for employees with disabilities and other marginalized groups for whom the traditional 9-to-5 office setup is a barrier to entry.
However, care must be taken that these very steps don’t unintentionally penalize the same people they should help in theory. The rise of hybrid work, if mishandled, could lead to unintended consequences for women, from “core” working hours that overlook the needs of working parents to well-documented discrepancies in burnout across gender and racial lines. It’s important that companies closely monitor new policies to ensure that well-intentioned efforts don’t unintentionally put a new burden disproportionately on particular groups. According to one McKinsey report, women are leading the way in DEI initiatives more than their male counterparts – but are often not being appropriately compensated for this vital labor – and women of color are being left behind, despite gains for women overall in the pipeline to executive leadership.
It’s not all doom and gloom for women in the workforce – this is simply an indication that, while perceptions are changing, there is still plenty to be done. Creating a company culture that not only makes statements in support of DEI but takes action is the first step – that is, a culture of belonging. Companies can audit their current practices, from hiring and promotion to workplace behavior and more, to reduce bias. Women, after all, are not a monolith; experiences vary based on factors like weight, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and others. Tracking employee experiences must take these into account as well and address disparities where they are found.
This International Women’s Day, we stand with women everywhere who are working to make a difference, have their voices heard and respected, and change the status quo for the better.
About the Author
Nancy Estep-Critchett is a founding Partner of Blue Rock Search, with oversight of the Franchise Practice. She has 30 years of successful working experience as a business advisor and executive recruiter in the franchising space. Nancy has built solid relationships which have spanned decades with industry professionals and internationally recognized brands.
Blue Rock Search is a 100% minority/female-owned executive search firm, an SRA Network member, a Hunt Scanlon Top 10 global recruiting firm, and a member of the Hunt Scanlon HR/Diversity Recruiting Power 65. We specialize in the targeted identification, assessment, and placement of executives across four distinct practice areas: Human Resources, Franchise, Higher Education, and Customer Experience.
Are you looking for top talent in human resources, franchising, customer experience, or higher education?
Contact us to learn more about how we can deliver the talent you need to succeed. Our systems, processes, and tools are designed to flex to the unique needs and expectations of any search.