Women are vanishing from the workplace — here's how to bring them back

Women are vanishing from the workplace — here's how to bring them back

It has become abundantly clear that the pandemic has wrought immediate and far-reaching impacts on workforces around the world. According to a U.S. Pew Research report  as many as 9.6 million workers lost their jobs during the COVID-19 downturn. For those who kept their jobs, many faced the daunting task of coming to terms with being an essential worker or struggled through the abrupt shift to remote work. All sectors of the workforce were affected by friends, family and loved ones who contracted COVID-19.

One group in particular has been affected disproportionately by the circumstances of the last year — working women, who all too often shouldered additional burdens on top of their careers as care responsibilities shifted back to the home amid school closures. According to Oxfam International, women globally lost more than 64 million jobs in 2020 — representing five percent of total jobs held by women.

To better understand the causes, Deloitte conducted a survey of 5,000 women globally. The findings published in  Women @ Work: A Global Outlook  reveal a stark reality for women in the workplace. Seventy-seven percent of women report that their workload has increased and fifty-one percent feel less optimistic about their career prospects today than before the pandemic. LGBTQ+ women and women of color are even more likely to report lower levels of mental wellbeing and work-life balance. 

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We know that business is more successful when it’s more diverse. So how can we address these systemic issues for women? First, employers — and the leaders of organizations — should create and maintain a culture that is truly inclusive, facilitate a genuine work-life balance and demonstrate a visible commitment to gender equality.  

Almost a quarter of the women that we surveyed indicated that better support with childcare, short-term sabbaticals and better resources to support mental health are the top three benefits their organization could offer to support their development and retention. These are clear and direct actions that corporate leaders can enact immediately to improve the working environment for women. 

At the same time, support systems funded by governments can help bolster the actions of individual employers. Recent proposals in the U.S. to invest in the nation’s human infrastructure, coupled with efforts by leaders in the private sector, are reasons for optimism that positive change can — and will — occur. 

For example, the U.S. is considering solutions such as free universal pre-school, two years of free community college, and direct support to children and families. These programs are promising and align with the level of support provided in other advanced economies — enabling women to work without having to choose between earning a living and caring for their families.  

While Deloitte Global’s Women @ Work report revealed stark challenges in the workplace, I’m confident that leading business organizations, together with policymakers, can take advantage of this moment to design a future of work that is more inclusive and more supportive for women — and for everyone in the workforce. That step will be essential not only in restoring economic growth globally, but ensuring such growth is more equitable for all. 

Punit Renjen serves as CEO of Deloitte Global. Deloitte operates in more than 150 countries, with approximately 330,000 professionals. Prior to his current role, Punit served as the chairman of Deloitte LLP and as the CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP. Outside of Deloitte, he is a member of The Business Roundtable, The International Business Council of the World Economic Forum, and serves as a member of several not for profit boards.