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A year after COVID-19, a trend took hold across the country–almost 3 million women dropped out of the workforce. The resignations and layoffs due to the global pandemic represented a major shift–previously, women had been increasing their participation in the workforce, even in greater numbers than men in 2020. A new report shows that a big reason for the “Great Resignation” was care obligations, which mainly affected women.

“In December 2021, 21.5% of females cited care as the reason for being out of the workforce, similar to the 20.8% pre-pandemic, while for men the numbers were 5.1% and 4.2%, respectively,” according to US News.

This news should not come as a shock, since the pandemic put an extra shift of working women who were suddenly saddled with childcare and elder care duties. It also took a greater toll on women with lower-wage jobs and minority women, who are more likely to be taking on extra duties at work and home.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

COVID-19 highlighted the fact that women in tech were also at higher risk, and their lower-level positions–according to Pew Research, only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only 22% of people on the boards of Fortune 500 companies are women–were more likely to be cut when budgets are slashed.

Women being forced out of the workforce is a problem with long-term consequences, as well, since we need women’s voices in order to innovate and make progress, and we need them as mentors and role models for a younger generation. In previous TechRepublic reporting, Nancy Wang, founder and CEO of Advancing Women in Product, warned that “gender diversity really impacts the perception of career mobility.”

The situation also presents an opportunity, however, in that flexibility may help increase work satisfaction, especially for working parents. New Pew research shows that 59% of workers who are able to work from home are doing so–less than the 71% of those in October 2020, but still significantly more than the 23% working remotely pre-COVID.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: How the crisis has created a new avenue for entrepreneurs (TechRepublic)

Christina Petersen is the co-founder and CPO of Worksome, a platform that helps freelancers connect with job opportunities–partnering directly with Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and internationally. She has focused her efforts on helping women find a path to career success outside of the glass ceiling found in the corporate workplace.

Petersen works with men and women, but since the pandemic has seen an “uptick in women.”

During the Great Resignation–which she calls the “Great Renegotiation”–more employees have become “conscious about what did not work.”

“They had time to reflect,” Petersen said. “They are considering different career paths, such as freelancing, based on their life circumstances.” Petersen’s aim is to help increase flexibility for workers, which she believes will contribute to a “sustainable work-life balance.”

Companies post-COVID need to encourage workers if they want them to return to the office, she said. She said she personally thinks a hybrid model can be ideal, but now the bargaining power has “shifted,” she said, and employees are demanding more.

In the tech space, many working women have been saddled with managing childcare as well as a full-time workload, and Petersen has worked on a new framework called “7 Tiers of Flexibility” to help companies retain their most valuable female employees.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: What employers can do to keep women on board (TechRepublic)

The reintegration of women into the workforce has been challenging, and organizations should take note of what they need to bring to the table.

According to data provided by Worksome, 72% of those who started freelancing during the pandemic say they are happier than working in their previous full-time roles. And work-life balance is the most important reason for 78% of respondents to make the switch to freelancing. And just slightly over half of the respondents are actually earning more, as well. Ensuring that these women are satisfied in their new roles should be a priority for managers, in addition to making the office flexible, should they want to return.

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