Caregiving duties were a big reason millions of women exited the workforce during the pandemic. And for many, that’s still holding them back — something employers need to address.
Nearly a quarter of women said that their child care workload had not returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to a new survey of 1,001 women by the job search engine Indeed. Similarly, almost half of workers (men and women) who quit a job during the Great Resignation left for child care reasons, lack of flexibility to choose when they put in their hours (45%), or paid time off (43%), according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in February.
To come back, these female workers are leveraging the tight job market to seek flexible hours, remote work opportunities, employer-provided caregiving benefits, paid leave and sick days, and a workplace culture that respects family caregiving.
“Women are finally starting to say, ‘I'm ready to get back in’…. [but] over the past year and a half, many of the female job seekers we work with said they would not work unless the positions were remote and flexible,” Gwenn Rosener, partner, and co-founder of FlexProfessionals, a recruiting and staffing firm for the Boston and Washington, D.C., areas, told Yahoo Money. “We’ve been amazed at the conviction of our candidates – they won’t budge.”
'I was looking for a flexible arrangement'
Women have, of course, have historically left the workforce for caregiving duties. Until the pandemic skyrocketed the number of women hitting the exits, though, employers didn’t pay much attention to flexible work arrangements. Workers, typically women, had to negotiate for job-sharing, flex hours, or part-time positions on a case-by-case basis with their manager.
But the scramble now to hire and retain workers is changing that attitude. Job openings in the U.S., and the number of workers quitting their jobs lingered at near record highs in February, according to the most recent data available, a signal of high demand for workers and of jobseeker leverage.
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Take Karen Severy, 57, a lawyer who lives in Bethesda, Md., who left her job a year ago to help her teenage son who was struggling with remote learning and relieve her own burnout. She was feeling the financial stress, but still wanted a job on her own terms.
“I’m a single mom with a mortgage to pay,” she told Yahoo Money. “I was looking for a flexible arrangement – maybe coming in once a week and if there's an office meeting – with a firm that would be understanding and happy with that.”
She contracted with FlexProfessionals and was matched in November with a hybrid job that allows her to split her time between home and the office of a local legal practice.
'I'm going to look elsewhere'
The new paradigm has also empowered women who are on the job as well. More than 1 in 4 (28%) caregiving women in non-manager roles in the the U.S. would switch jobs if they’re not allowed to work at least some of the time from home and nearly half (48%) of executive women who are caregivers would do so, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey of 8,968 employees with caregiving responsibilities.
“The numbers are staggering,” Lisa S. Weitzman, WeCare…Because You Do director of strategic partnerships at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, a national family caregiver support program, told Yahoo Money. “Women are saying, 'if you're not going to meet my needs, I'm going to look elsewhere.'”
More companies are listening.
Last year, Schneider Electric, a global energy company with its U.S. headquarters in Boston, Mass., for example, contracted with Care.com to provide backup assistance for adult care, childcare, and even pet care. It also started enrollment in a voluntary part-time program for U.S. salaried employees to reduce hours as needed, but retain employee benefits.
“We've been very passionate about trying to pull females back in the workforce, even prior to COVID, but we needed to up our game,” Amy deCastro, vice president of HR, global businesses at Schneider Electric, told Yahoo Money. “Our goal is by 2025 for 50% of new hires to be women, up from 39% at entry now and 30% to be senior leaders up from about one in four.”
For Tina Jepson, 36, a Nashville-based writing specialist for Schneider, those types of benefits and empathy for working moms are what has kept her on the job the past two years at Schneider. Jepson spent five years out of the workforce raising two children, before she accepted the job in 2019. At the time, she was four months pregnant with her third child.
“Even as a new hire, I was eligible for 12 weeks of paid parental leave,” she told Yahoo Money. “I was impressed.”
Jepson was back from leave when the pandemic began. “My manager was a new mom at the time, too, and she understood the chaos that comes when you have children–now 9, 7 and 2–at home, online school and work,” Jepson said. “So far, I've never felt like I've had to choose between my family, my kids and work.”
Wellthy.com, a digital care-concierge platform that helps employers assist staffers who have caregiving needs, now provides services to 1.1 million workers, double the number it did a year ago. The company hires social workers as care coordinators and offers a tech platform to manage care, ranging from scheduling medical appointments to finding the right specialists to organizing a move to a long-term care facility.
“One of the things we see holding women back from reentering the workforce is having the care infrastructure that they need,” Wellthy CEO and co-founder Lindsay Jurist-Rosner, told Yahoo Money. “[Employers] want to make sure that women want to work there. If not, they know they will go where they’re more supported.”
Kerry is a Senior Columnist and Senior Reporter at Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon