By Tiffany O’Donnell | CEO, Women Lead Change

Have you seen the memes about “How it started/How it’s going?” You’ll see things like a couple’s wedding picture (how it started) adjacent to their now grown family (how it’s going). Or the first day on the job as a line worker next to that same line worker now owning the company. You get the idea. 

Friends, I offer you this version. On one side is the picture of a female leader at her work-from-home desk, complete with a large monitor for video calls (how it started). Adjacent to that photo is a picture of that same desk, empty. The monitor is now on the dining room table, facing an elementary school-aged child navigating this week’s math lesson (how it’s going). 

The empty desk and, more importantly, absent leader are a part of what’s being called the women’s recession. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the workforce lost 865,000 women during September. That’s four times the number of men who left the same workforce. 

McKinsey reports that 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or dropping out of the workforce altogether. If that number holds, we could lose 2 million women in corporate America. 

One hundred thousand senior leaders will leave the workforce. 

The reasons range from burnout to increased caregiving duties at home. Any attempt at work-life integration is proving challenging at best, impossible at worst. For the women in the numbers above, leaving work was the best option in a lose-lose situation. 

This is not just a women’s issue, it is a business issue. When women lose, we all lose. 

The business case for women in leadership is strong. Through McKinsey, we know that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above the median for their respective industries. Companies with the highest representation of women on their boards outperform those with the lowest on return on equity, sales and invested capital. 

We need to be using this moment to develop our leaders, not diminish them. COVID-19 provides the opportunity to explore new workplace culture and structure. 

A few ideas: 

  • Adjust productivity and performance goals to align with work-life integration in mind.
  • Communicate flexibility and mean it.
  • Establish no-meeting hours in the day.
  • Adjust policies and programs to support employees, including paid time off, mental health support, child care/home schooling support.
  • Communicate expectations and plans. Be transparent through multiple checkpoints.

Organizations that are purposeful in retaining a talented workforce during the pandemic will thrive in a post-pandemic world. If a women’s recession is how it started, let’s work to ensure that how it’s going includes a massive recovery. 

It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do.

Categories: Guest opinion