Three million women have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic, compared to 1.8 million men. In January alone, 275,000 women exited their jobs compared to 71,000 men, continuing this worrying large-scale exodus of women from the labor pool. Many have begun speculating what this means for the economy and society. Vice President Kamala Harris has called it a national emergency and it is. Women create tremendous value for companies. Women in the workforce is not a nice-to-have, but rather is a must-have, for any company that values diverse thinking and experience – not to mention equality.
Women are an economic driver, not break. S&P Global estimates that accelerating women’s participation in the workforce could add $5.87 trillion to global market capitalization over the next 10 years. The Center for American Progress estimates if women took just one day off it would cost America’s GDP $21 billion. Having an economy without women is not just detrimental to profitability, its long-term implications include a generation of young woman who can’t image a place for themselves in the workforce.
Unfortunately, women are affected by generational bias in the home and the workplace, which the pandemic has only amplified. On average men make more money than women and it was easier for two-parent households to forgo their salary to provide at–home childcare. Women are also more expected to be the primary provider in the home and many may not have even seen it as a choice when most schools shifted to fully-remote classes. Lastly, women as a whole tend to be over-represented in industries hardest hit by the pandemic like hospitality and retail.
As Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said of the trend, “Their productivity, their participation in the workforce is felt in our GDP. These are not just niche issues, these are actually issues that are critical to our economic growth. We know and have known long before the pandemic that women are increasingly integral to the economic security of their families.”
Sidelining working women is not a new problem. The U.S. government drew up tactical plans to return females to their homes as soon as men returned from war, with the American History Association launching a propaganda campaign encouraging a return to unpaid household duties so that men could regain their paid positions in the economy. As Ijeoma Oluo reports in her latest book, “Mediocre,” the AHA admitted that it “tailored its pamphlet to paint an idealized image of a postwar world that was essentially free of minorities, where women happily moved out of the factories and back into the kitchen.”
COVID has taken much from us, but we should not let it take away the progress America has made for working women. There is no way to rebuild an economy without them. This gender has earned their place at the table and deserves to be protected. This month, I encourage you to pull a report on the number of women who have left your company in the past 12 months and analyze how this will impact a department or team’s ability to perform. Then, have a conversation with management about what this does to the talent goals you have for gender diversity. Most importantly, take action.
Women’s History Month honors those who have had the chance to succeed. However, in a time of rebuilding, it is even more beneficial to identify the loss and look for ways to bring women back to work. Your company will benefit and so will the country.
Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.