Women have made a substantial difference to the success of organizations throughout history.
In a 2018 Harvard Business Review study, nearly 95% of directors agree that diversity brings unique perspectives to the boardroom, while 84% believe it enhances board performance.
Women’s entry into paid work has been a major factor in America’s prosperity. It is amazing there was a time in history when women were not allowed to vote, open a bank account, keep the earnings from their work, purchase property or had the right to be educated.
Harriet Tubman provided a wise quote stating, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world.”
Women in history have made great strides in influencing change in the world.
• In 1797 while in the White House, Abigail Adams promoted gender equality, supported equal rights for women and endorsed the importance of educating girls.
• In 1881, Clara Barton established the American Red Cross.
• Harriet Tubman, freed slaves through her work on the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.
• Helen Keller was a tremendous advocate for people with disabilities and women’s suffrage.
• In the 1950s, Rosa Parks drew attention to segregation and launched the NAACP.
After World War II, more women entered the workforce even though opportunities were limited. Although many were married, the majority were unmarried.
Women’s participation in the economy continued to rise, with the gain primarily due to an increase in work among married women. By 1970, 50% of single women and 40% of married women were participating in the labor force.
By the early 1990s, women’s participation in the labor force reached just over 74%. By then, the share of women going into the traditional fields of teaching, nursing, social work and clerical work declined, and more women were becoming doctors, lawyers, managers and professors. As women increased their education and joined industries and occupations formerly dominated by men, the gap in earnings between women and men began to close significantly.
Married women raising a family struggled with this balancing act. This was and continues to be difficult. Although there is progress, evidence suggests many women remain unable to achieve their goals. The gap in earnings between women and men, although smaller than it was years ago, is notable. Women continue to be underrepresented in certain industries and occupations.
Further advancement for women has been hampered by barriers to equal opportunity and workplace rules, which fail to support a reasonable work-life balance. As women, many of us carry more of the load for organizing families and kids and their overall care as well as our homes.
In January 2020, women were in the slim majority in the workforce for the second time in U.S. history, accounting for just more than 50% of the national workforce. But COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.
From February 2020 to February 2021, 2.4 million women separated from the labor force. In January 2021 alone, 275,000 women left the workforce. Additionally, 2 million women have stopped looking for work since the pandemic began, likely because of ongoing disruptions to school and child care.
Throughout history, women have fought for equal pay for equal work, promotions and reaching their work goals alongside men.
Yet the pandemic has reminded us that women are the primary caretakers of our children and others in our family. Many have dropped out of work in order to make certain their children were safe and receiving the care and education they needed.
The pandemic has taken a toll on all families in the workplace but particularly women. Given the enormous challenges mothers are facing at work and at home, two things should come as no surprise: Many mothers are considering downshifting their career or leaving the workforce, and mothers, more than fathers, are significantly more likely to be thinking about taking these steps.
Among mothers who are thinking about downshifting or leaving, a majority cite child care responsibilities as the primary reason.
With day care centers closed and school underway remotely, many women have had to choose between showing up at front-line jobs and caring for their children. Others have been caring for family members who were ill or making sure aging parents were safe.
Estimates indicate the effects of the pandemic may set women’s progress in the workforce back half a century.
At the beginning of 2020, the representation of women in corporate America was trending in the right direction. This was most noticeable in senior management. Between 2015 and 2020, women in senior-vice-president positions grew from 23 to 28%, and in the C-suite from 17 to 21%.
Yet the progress remains slow. Women hold just 24% of S&P 500 board seats, up only 3 percentage points since 2012, despite making up almost half of the U.S. workforce and driving approximately 80% of consumer spending.
Not surprisingly, senior-level women are significantly more likely than men at the same level to feel burned out, under pressure to work more and as though they have to be “always on.” And they are 1.5 times more likely than senior-level men to think about downshifting their role or leaving the workforce because of COVID-19.
COMPANIES CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE WOMEN LEADERS
The possibility of losing so many senior-level women is alarming for several reasons. The financial consequences could be hefty.
• Research shows that company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well represented at the top.
• Senior-level women have a vast and meaningful impact on a company’s culture.
• Women are more likely than men to embrace employee-friendly policies and programs and to champion racial and gender diversity.
• More than 50% of senior-level women say they consistently take a public stand for gender and racial equity at work, compared to about 40% of senior-level men.
• In addition, women are more likely to mentor and sponsor other women.
If women leaders leave the workforce, potentially women at all levels could lose their most powerful allies and champions.
The challenges facing companies right now are serious. The “broken rung” that has held millions of women back from being promoted to manager has not been repaired.
The initial crisis of the pandemic has passed and we have navigated through exhaustion, grief and reduced opportunities. Now is the time, and there has never been a better one, for women and all people who want to work.
Employees are in short supply, and really good employees are in even shorter supply. We are in the perfect environment to say, I want, I need and I deserve more.
Both of my brothers transformed themselves and opened businesses during the 2008-2009 economic recession. My sister opened a new business six months ago. I have met three people who have reinvented their careers during the pandemic. Now is the time for change whether you want to look for a new employer, re-educate yourself and change your career, or become a business owner and entrepreneur. Crisis time is an excellent time for reinvention.