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Advice for working women: How to navigate the she-cession

Read time
8 mins

You made it through the pandemic intact, but as you come out the other side, you’ve found the employment world has changed. It’s no longer even the “new normal” you encountered thanks to COVID. It’s a “new, new normal” that seems to be shifting every day.

So far, the changes for women haven’t been positive. Women in the workforce were hit with a 1-2 punch:

Child care crisis

First, the child care industry was decimated by closures, which meant fewer jobs if you worked at a daycare, fewer dollars if you ran one, and fewer options if you were a working mom. By December, there were 166,800 fewer people working in child care than a year earlier, and 81% fewer kids were enrolled.

Many owners who kept their doors open had to take out loans or pay out of their own pocket to cover deficits and the cost of personal protective equipment.

Hard-hit sectors

Second, the pandemic hit sectors that traditionally employ large numbers of women the hardest. If you worked in hospitality or travel, those were two of the areas most impacted by the pandemic lockdowns. Together, hospitality and leisure shed 3.1 million jobs during the pandemic that had yet to return as of May. Hair salons and other beauty-related businesses were likewise affected.

If you were a restaurant worker, you may not have a job to return to. According to one study, 10% of U.S. restaurants had permanently closed since the start of the pandemic, as of March. That equated to nearly 80,000 restaurants and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Long-term effects

Those factors and others have led to the loss of 1.8 million women’s jobs that haven’t returned since they were lost during the pandemic.

Maybe you’re one of them. Perhaps you were laid off and haven’t been able to find employment, or maybe you’re a working mom who had to take a break from your career while school campuses and daycares closed, leaving you few options but to stay home. Maybe your field has contracted for good, and you need to look at other options. Or maybe you kept your job and had to adjust to a whole new workplace paradigm.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, here are some ideas on how to navigate the post-pandemic world in light of the challenges some refer to as the “she-cession.”

If you’re looking for work...

Many businesses recognize the importance of attracting and retaining women in the workforce. They add to the available talent pool and, in so doing, raise the quality of applicants across the board. In addition, women help facilitate collaboration, and a more diverse staff better reflects business' customers base.

Seek out returnships

There’s a demand for people like you, and businesses are out there looking. One way they’re doing so is through returnships, which are internships that target professionals who’ve taken a mid-career break from the workforce. Some are specifically geared toward women.

For example, reacHIRE has a dual goal of accessing hidden talent pools in a quest to identify women who can serve as leaders, while seeking to improve retention of women once they’re hired. In addition, many big-name companies such as Intuit, Amazon, Walmart, Goldman Sachs, IBM, and GM have launched returnship programs.

Explore entrepreneurship

If you’re looking to start or reboot your own business, there are opportunities there, as well. The U.S. Small Business Administration has launched 20 new Women’s Business Centers across the nation, which marks the most ambitious expansion in the agency’s history.

The beauty of entrepreneurship is the flexibility and freedom it offers. “Sidepreneurs” — business owners who worked fewer than 20 hours a week — were already trending before the COVID era. Women-owned businesses as a whole grew by 21% between 2014 and 2019. But that was nothing compared with the growth of sidepreneur women, which was pegged at 39%.

You can start a full-time consulting business or open a shop on Etsy. Related options include becoming a gig worker or independent contractor. It’s truly your choice.

Develop new skills

Look to add to your skillset with something that’s marketable that you always wanted to do. Learn website development to set up your own retail site or so you can provide that service to others. If you’ve always wanted to get into engineering or architecture, learn how to read blueprints as a first step.

From in-person classes at local colleges to formal online courses to free how-to videos on Youtube, there are plenty of in-demand skills you can learn quickly and on a budget. High-growth-potential careers worth exploring include:

  • Coding
  • Computer and information systems
  • Editing
  • Grant writing
  • Management analysis
  • Marketing
  • Public relations
  • Software analysis
  • Website design

Adapt your skills

Just because you may have lost your job in a contracting sector, that doesn’t mean your skills aren’t valuable. If you’ve got good management skills, they can be applied in a new setting. And customer service skills required in a retail store or restaurant can be adapted to the online world seamlessly. Don’t be afraid to apply for a position in a new industry if you have the applicable expertise.

If you’re in the workplace...

If you have a job in a traditional workplace, chances are good it’s been affected by the pandemic. COVID may have altered the way your workplace looks or triggered a shift to more remote work.

You may have retained your job amid overall staff contractions or reassignments, meaning you had to learn new skills. Even if that hasn’t happened, it’s a good idea to ask your manager about cross-training opportunities that will make you more valuable to the company and more marketable overall.

Meanwhile, let your employer know what you need to be productive. They hired you, so they’ll want to retain you, especially if they invest in training you specifically for the job you’re doing there. Most new employees don’t come to a new job knowing everything they need to know, even if it’s just a matter of becoming familiar with internal protocols and software design.

Learn about benefits and child care

Things you may want to ask about include vacation time, wellness programs, retirement options, insurance benefits like health and disability insurance, and the possibility of promotions down the road.

If you’re a working mom, child care will be particularly important. Are remote work options available? What about on-site child care or agreements that give discounts to employees at outside providers? There may be dependent care FSAs, which can save you an average of 30% on child and other dependent care by using pretax dollars for qualified out-of-pocket expenses.

[ Related read: The 20 best employee benefits & perks in 2021 ]

Know your rights

Ask your human resources director for a complete rundown of your rights as an employee, including company policies regarding discrimination and harassment. Understand to whom you would report any potential violations and what the protocols are.

Know your rights as a woman under the law (most importantly, Title VII), as well. As the EEOC points out, “The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”

If you have any questions about your rights, the EEOC also has an online Q&A resource that can help answer them.

Bolster your finances

This is important whether you're looking for a job or already in the workplace. You never want to be forced to make an important career decision out of desperation. Being on solid financial footing means you can wait for the right position for you.

Plus, if you’re looking for employment, you’ll need to remember that it can cost you some money in terms of things like work clothes, child-care expenses, and commuting costs (gasoline, plus wear and tear on your vehicle).

Long-term goals matter too. Have a budget, and prepare for the future with a solid retirement plan. Building credit is also important, especially if your goals include owning your own home. Order a free copy of your credit report to find out where you stand, then learn how paying your bills on time, managing your credit wisely, paying off any late bills, and carrying a realistic credit load can help you improve your credit score.

Whatever employment situation you find yourself in post-pandemic, there are ways you can improve it. These are just a few of the ideas and resources available to you. With patience, your own research, and continued professional development, you’ll be able to go further than you may even have imagined in the evolving “new, new normal.”

By Jessica Larson,

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published July 7, 2021
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