The end of March marks the closing of Women’s History Month. However, that doesn’t stop the continuing conversation about how women can impact industry and the world. And that conversation includes exploring the evaporation of women from the workforce, which particularly accelerated with the COVID pandemic.
The "She-cession and Its Impact on Communications” study from New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) found 80 percent of those older than 20 who left the workforce in January 2021 were women. Reasons for that vary, but a major motivation is that women feel disproportionately affected by the pandemic and need more support at home and in the office.
In Sept. 2020 alone, 865,000 women exited the workforce—four times the rate of men. Some of this is due to a lack of resources for childcare. A report in The Washington Post revealed one of four women surveyed who became unemployed during the pandemic reported the reason was a lack of childcare. This was twice the rate of men surveyed.
Other reasons were burnout and mental health issues. Communicators had to work at the highest gears to navigate companies and workers through COVID. The NYWICI study revealed 60 percent of women in communication surveyed felt uneasy, pessimistic and experienced other negative emotional impacts from the pandemic.
All these stressors add up for women, many who are responsible for invisible work outside the office, which intensified during the pandemic. Any ability to take on more is simply not feasible, even when it’s paid work outside the home.
A responsibility now falls upon employers to provide support that will help keep employees in the office, particularly women. Women in the communication sector said they were 1.3 times more likely than men to not receive aid from their employer. That included longer maternity leave, mental health initiatives, more holistic parental leave and better management overall.
And because of a lack of aid, one in three working mothers considered a job change during the pandemic, with one in four driven by a desire to scale back their hours. Hence, women reaching a breaking point and either exploring new options or joining the great she-cession.
Some organizations are recognizing the stress on women and are creating programs and benefits to help female employees. In other cases, entrepreneurial women who changed paradigms years ago are doing so again.
For example, Joanna Doven, founding CEO of Premo Consultants, started her company out of necessity nine years ago. Doven's goals included maximizing her talents and continuing to do what she loved. In addition, Doven wanted flexibility so she could feel “okay” about being a working mom.
Dovan couldn’t fathom taking another high-pressure job which required her time for almost 12-hours a day with a growing family, which her own consultancy could make room for. "I worked full-time, but I was in charge of my time,” she says.
Since then Doven has expanded Premo. Her three main employees are working mothers. Working during COVID challenged them—client work still got done, but Doven wanted to do something more. She wanted to allow her employees to feel happier and more satisfied at work and home.
So, earlier this month she introduced the four-day workweek. Her employees work 30 hours weekly and at their full salaries. And while this serves as a great policy for working moms, Doven said it’s a tool that could be used for any person looking for more balance. She believes burnout is the top issue for women in PR.
“The media continues to change,” Doven says. “Local media, especially, is changing so fast. The good reporters, in many cases, are gone. Relationships you could count on aren’t there as much. So, convincing reporters to cover a client is getting harder. Because of this, many PR professionals must become ‘jills of all trades’ and learn a variety of marketing skills…in order to leverage coveted earned media placement.”
Re-Introducing Women to the Workforce
Some companies also want to make sure that if women go on maternity or need to step away, they can return seamlessly. APCO Worldwide introduced a program, APCO Encore, to help women caregivers re-enter the workforce on a flexible basis, continue to build their careers and still meet personal obligations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has reaffirmed the reality that women are disproportionately and negatively impacted by major disruptions,” says APCO Director and program manager Leanne High. “We believe this program will give women a way to rejoin the workforce and advance their career," she adds. Moreover, the program lets APCO "tap into the talent and expertise of a diverse base of candidates who were previously unable to return to work.”
APCO has opened five positions under its APCO Encore umbrella. They include global mobility specialist, resource manager, media relations specialist, content writer and project manager.
Returning employees are paired with a mentor, who is a fellow caregiver. They also attend regular group meetings to discuss challenges and opportunities. And APCO makes hearing their voices a priority.
“We are continuing to find new ways to immerse the Encore employees into opportunities that help them tackle common challenges like time management,” High says. “In our regular check-ins we solicit feedback from the cohort on what would be helpful...what information and learning resources we should be making available, and more.”
High says APCO will continue to evaluate the program and introduce more positions when needed.
Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal