Just when women thought they were making strides toward true professional equality, the pandemic showed their vulnerability to market forces. According to statistics from the National Women’s Law Center, 12.2 million of the jobs lost during the first months of the pandemic were held by women.
Now, women are struggling to regain the ground they lost, often finding it hard to return to the workforce at the same levels and pay rates they enjoyed two years ago. By contrast, other NWLC figures show that men have recaptured all their lost positions.
As a professional woman, I deeply understand how this phenomenon happened. Women tend to be the ones to make career sacrifices for their families, staying home to care for children or leaving work to tend to their aging parents. While these are admirable contributions, these steps away from the workforce can leave women at a disadvantage when they want to return to part-time or full-time work.
No matter how much I wanted to prioritize my professional goals during Covid, my now-two-year-old and four-year-old took priority. Writing the book I told my publisher would take two months took two years, because thousands of diapers and snacks and hundreds of naptimes and boo-boos and bedtime stories (rightfully) consumed all of my attention.
Maybe you were also one of the millions of women who fell away from working between early 2020 and today. If you’re ready to steer yourself toward occupational goals again, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Look for a supportive employer.
Perhaps you have the opportunity to go back to work with a previous employer or you’ve decided to apply for openings with untested employers. Either way, look for signs that the company supports women and appreciates women’s unique concerns.
To be sure, some employers are more obvious about their support than others. Consider Wipro. During a LinkedIn event, Tony Buffomante, Wipro’s Global Head of the Cybersecurity & Risk Services, noted that his company has “a dedicated program called Returning Mothers to Work for those who have had children and are coming back into the mix.” He explained that the program sets women up for success by partnering them with mentors, helping them with their career pathing objectives, and offering advocacy and coaching.
Not all companies have implemented plans to assist women, but you can tell a lot about a potential employer by the benefits you’re offered, such as the freedom to arrange your schedule according to your personal responsibilities.
2. Sync up with those who can relate.
There’s power in numbers, so surrounding yourself with other women in the same situation can keep you feeling encouraged and supported. It may also become an avenue to hear about organizations actively seeking women candidates for available roles.
Where should you start? Plenty of returnship programs are popping up around the country. Energy management company Schneider Electric’s Return2Work is an excellent example. Though Return2Work is focused on filling internal positions — instead of being a brand-agnostic returnship program — it’s a good place for returners to learn about one another. Amy deCastro, who’s in HR at Schneider Electric, is actively using her organization’s Return2Work program to connect women with role models and mentors.
Of course, you can always just put out feelers online to meet women like you. LinkedIn and Facebook have plenty of groups for women professionals. Joining a few could give you the inroads and support you’re seeking.
3. Ensure your family is primed for a change.
If you have a family, take time to plan with them the realities of your transition back into the workforce. Discuss everything from new routines to revised chore charts. For instance, who will make each meal? How will those meals be planned? What about laundry and other household tasks? Many times, stay-at-home moms and wives will pick up all the domestic jobs, yet it’s tough to juggle everything when working outside the home.
Even if you’ll be working remotely, you and your family need to be on the same page about household logistics. Otherwise, you’ll feel too much unnecessary tension, which could leave you regretting your decision to put yourself first. (And you shouldn’t.)
4. Keep the lines of communication clear with your new boss.
If you found a great job but not everything about the company is working for you, set up a conversation with your boss at the first sign of concern. Don’t be defensive, but be clear about what help and support you need.
Let’s say you were told during your interviews that you could come in early and leave early on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays but that your boss has set up 4 p.m. Wednesday meetings. Though this might seem like a little snag, you should bring it up right away so you can be your best advocate and give your boss a chance to discuss your concerns.
Reinventing your career after a hiatus can seem a bit formidable, but it can also be exciting and energizing. Just make sure you take a few proactive steps to ensure a rewarding, successful experience.