Editor’s Note: Karin Kimbrough is the chief economist at LinkedIn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
As the latest jobs numbers continue to show a resurging labor market, women have seen an uneven and slower recovery. While men have already recouped their pandemic job losses, there are still about 1.1 million women missing from the labor force.
Women of color, in particular, are still struggling — as about 31,000 Black women left the workforce entirely in February, and Black women were the only group who saw unemployment tick up slightly, from 5.8% in January to 6.1% in February.
New research from LinkedIn suggests that there are strategies employers can consider adopting in the short term to make their workplaces better environments for women who are still out of a job and eager to get back in.
De-stigmatize career breaks and resume “gaps”
For the millions of women who were forced out of the workforce during the peak months of the pandemic, many now find themselves with a “gap” on their resume. Whether due to layoffs, needing to step back for caretaking responsibilities or home-schooling, or dealing with other unexpected commitments, many spent months out of work.
A recent LinkedIn survey shows that 64% of women globally say they have taken a career break at some point over the course of their careers. At its peak in 2020, the length of career breaks for women increased by about 40% year-over-year, compared to a 27% increase for men. Women who leave work are more likely to be stranded between jobs for longer periods of time.
While hiring managers are starting to acknowledge that career breaks are becoming more common, nearly 60% of people surveyed believe there is still a stigma attached to them.
Employers can attract and retain more women who have taken career breaks by focusing their interview process on looking at the full set of skills a candidate has developed throughout their lived experiences, beyond just the most recent role. When companies hire based on skills and look beyond traditional requirements, they open access to employment to those who have historically been shut out of the labor market.
Offer more flexible and remote work options
Another consistent theme for women in the workplace is the desire for more flexible options when it comes to where and how they get their work done.
We know that during the pandemic, women took on the brunt of the caregiving and home-schooling responsibilities. So it became more important to them than ever that employers move away from rigid 9-to-5 on-site workweeks to better accommodate their needs. In fact, women in 2020 were 26% more likely to apply to remote jobs on LinkedIn compared to men, and those numbers have remained high since. And in a recent global survey, 53% of women said they had either left their job or considered leaving their job due to lack of flexible working.
The good news is that we have seen a huge increase in remote options on LinkedIn, with roughly one in six US job postings now offering remote work, up from one in 67 at the start of the pandemic. However, true flexibility for many women — and especially frontline workers who may not have the same option to work from home — extends beyond just remote work.
Companies should offer flexible hours and give employees the ability to dictate their own work schedule. That would draw more women back into the workforce due to the disproportionate burden of outside responsibilities so many were forced to take on during the pandemic.
Provide clearer paths for leadership
Perhaps a bright spot in recent months is that we’ve seen a rebound in women hired and promoted into leadership roles. According to LinkedIn data, the share of women hired into leadership positions in the US grew by roughly 10% in relative terms between 2015 and 2021. And right now, our data show that the share of women hired into leadership roles is now up to nearly 41%.
Despite steady progress, women in leadership are still largely underrepresented in all major industries we look at. In health care, for instance, we’ve seen the widest gap — as women make up 65% of all workers in the field but only accounted for 48% of leadership roles in 2021. We’ve seen a similar trend in retail, where women comprise 52% of the workforce, but only make up 37% of the leadership roles.
To even the playing field, organizations need to invest in creating clearer paths to leadership so all women have opportunities to rise to the top ranks. That means being honest and transparent about which types of roles on the team have faster paths to promotions than others, and also thinking critically about whether there are any clear imbalances across age and gender that need to be reset.
We still have a long way to go to narrow the gap for women to achieve equal opportunities and access to great jobs. If more organizations embrace career paths of all kinds and adopt flexible workforce policies that we know work better for women, we can get there faster and help more women achieve their career ambitions.