The pandemic impacted working women disproportionately, and many have been slower to return to the workforce as a result. Data from the ADP Research Institute® illustrates what's happening and indicates how employers can help bring more women back to work.

The notion of realignment may be what prompted many people to quit their jobs amid the global health crisis and search for employment that would better support their personal priorities and desire for better work/life integration. Now, as the Great Resignation continues, employers must evaluate their priorities too.

This new era, deemed the Great Realignment, sees employers shifting philosophies, policies and practices to create a more inclusive workforce where everyone — especially women — can thrive.

During a session at the virtual summit Women@Work 2022: Redefining the Workforce of Tomorrow, CNN's Christine Romans interviewed Nela Richardson, Chief Economist at ADP, about the latest research and trends concerning women at work today. As part of their discussion, the two explored how the current recovery looks in different industries and what employers can do to attract and support more women in the workforce as we move forward.

Here are some pivotal questions that were raised during the session, and some valuable insights shared by the speakers.

How Is the Current Recovery Impacting Women and Work?

The global health crisis impacted women disproportionately from the beginning, and that continues to be true of the recovery period. "Women had to stand up and become the social institutions that were compromised by the pandemic," says Richardson. "They had to be the provider of healthcare. They had to step in when the nursing home wasn't able to take care of their parents, and step in as a teacher when the children went remote. That's why we're seeing such a long time to recover."

Data illustrates how working women took more than their share of the hit over the course of the pandemic. "We can draw from ADP's 500,000 clients who were in the market in January 2019 to see what has happened through [the past] three years," Richardson notes. "We saw that women were 46% of the employee base [in 2019] but took 53% of the job losses [during the pandemic]."

Why Aren't More Women Returning to the Workforce?

"We saw a big boost of women coming back early on, but that has slowed down actually, and men have been the dominant rejoins," Richardson explains. "Women recovered more quickly, and they were coming back to the firms that were hardest hit across the board — leisure, hospitality and retail. But right now we're seeing more strength and more recovery in what we used to call 'office' jobs: finance, professional business services and information technology."

Industries that are predominantly staffed by women haven't recovered as strongly, and many of those jobs cannot be performed remotely, which further narrows the pool of talent willing to take on those positions. "We're seeing a slower recovery in those industries that were hardest hit [by the pandemic]: leisure, hospitality, education, health and childcare," Richardson notes. "The openings are higher in those women-centric industries."

How Does the Gender Wage Gap Factor In?

Lagging wages could be slowing the return to work for women, especially juxtaposed with the rising costs (and diminished availability) of childcare, as well as other caregiving demands that women typically face. "According to the sentiment data, we found remarkable evidence that both men and women want gender equity," Richardson says. "Many of them report that they'd be willing to leave their jobs if they felt there was some inequity in wage practices that was intentional."

Despite that promising finding, the gender wage gap continues, and widens, as women age and advance in their careers. "Young women start out of the gate at a disadvantage. Gen Z women make about 92% of what a man makes," explains Richardson. "As a woman ages, the gap becomes wider. So by the time [they] reach 55 and older, the typical woman is making 75% of what a man makes."

How Can Employers Attract More Women to the Workforce?

To navigate the Great Realignment and bring more women back to the workforce, employers must consider how they can address the needs of their women employees, as well as the needs of the families and communities that women support.

"[Employers can] support families and caregivers too," notes Romans. "[Employers must] support the partner who might need to care for a kid with COVID-19 or the flu, and not just always have that fall on the shoulders of the women." This may look like expanded benefit offerings, increased flexibility for schedules, additional paid time off or employee stipends that people can use to pay for whatever they need to support their families' wellness.

Offering more flexibility is also extremely important to attracting women. "When it comes to the jobs market, it really is about having more autonomy," Richardson says. "It's about having more flexibility, either with your schedule or with your location," and ensuring "a better balance between work and family."

Women also need to know that deciding to work outside the office will not impede their career progress. "I worry a little bit about visibility at the workplace and women being really eager to work remotely to manage a busy life and a busy family," Romans notes. "I worry about what that means in terms of visibility in the office." Mentorship and sponsorship can help support women and others who work remotely, and facilitate a more inclusive work environment at the same time.

Employers Can Shape the Future of Women at Work

What employers do next will impact the next era of women at work — and the industries that rely on them — for years to come.

"The future of women is tied to these critical industries," Richardson explains. "There is a link between the future of women professionally and the future of leisure, of hospitality, of healthcare and of education." As she points out, we must work to make women less vulnerable so that they can continue supporting this social architecture. "It's necessary for an economy to grow and thrive."

ADP Women@Work 2022

To listen and watch the original conversation, click here and access the recording of the thought-provoking Women@Work 2022 summit.

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