Women Are Missing in the Workforce as U.S. Jobs Recover

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  • The post-pandemic economic recovery has disproportionately left women behind.
  • Employment issues particularly affect women of color and women with children.
  • There are many ways employers can tackle gender inequality in the workplace.
  • Women looking to reenter the workforce after taking a break have options.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw unprecedented job losses and leaves of absence in the workforce. Thankfully, these losses have largely recovered, with the U.S. unemployment rate standing at a near-record low of 3.6% as of May 2022, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

However, despite this recovery, one group lags behind in key metrics: women. Women's participation in the global workforce dropped by 4.2% from 2019-2020 — significantly higher than the 3% drop for men. And these employment numbers for women have yet to fully recover. Learn why this is happening and what can be done to remedy this employment gap.

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Unemployment Rates Remain High Among Women

As of May 2022, there were still about 660,000 fewer women ages 20 and older in the U.S. workforce than there were pre-pandemic in February 2020. This is notable because labor force participation among men ages 20 and older was actually higher in May 2022 than it was before the pandemic.

While this gap in labor force participation varies depending upon demographics, it's among the worst for women of color — Black women in particular. In fact, the unemployment rate for Black women actually increased from 5.0% to 5.9% from April to May 2022, despite a thriving job market. Many factors, including structural racism and other unique obstacles faced by women in the workforce, contribute to these relatively high unemployment rates.

Why Have Women Left the Workforce?

There is no single answer as to why women have left the workforce or why many are struggling to reenter. However, a few reasons stand out across the board as major issues facing women at work.

The first, and perhaps most important, is uneven caregiving responsibilities between men and women and limited access to childcare. The United States is one of the only industrialized nations on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid family leave, and once new parents return to work, childcare can be incredibly expensive. Add to that how the burden of caregiving falls on women disproportionately, and many women find they can actually save money in the short term by not returning to the office.

Other issues include employer bias against those with a gap in their resume — even one caused by a growing family — and the bias against women in certain professions, including tech and the skilled trades.

How to Create a Better Work Environment for Women

Individual employers can pursue many options to foster a fairer work environment for women and attract the best employees in the field, which will benefit their business as a whole.

With the pandemic-fueled rise in remote work, employers who offer remote or flexible work options may see a rise in highly qualified applicants. Flexible and remote work can be a great tool to help women who have families and other caregiving responsibilities (such as family members with long-term health problems) balance their personal and professional lives, without sacrificing their careers. Other benefits employers may consider are on-site or subsidized child care and gender-neutral paid family leave policies.

Furthermore, employers can benefit women and themselves by not penalizing candidates who want to return to work after a career break. Many well-qualified, hard-working parents have taken career breaks for personal reasons, particularly in light of the pandemic. Destigmatizing the career break — and paying attention to well-qualified candidates — will help make the workplace more equitable and help employers hire top candidates they may have previously overlooked.

Helpful Tips to Reenter the Workforce

If you are a woman looking to reenter the workforce after a career break motivated by the pandemic, an expanding family, or any other reason, there are several things to keep in mind that can help you find the right job and make your transition easier. For instance, you could:

  • Search for remote jobs: Working from home is flexible, can save you time and money since you won't have to commute, and can help you balance any caregiving responsibilities you may have with your professional life. By applying for remote jobs, you also open yourself up to working for employers all over the country without having to move.
  • Ask other women who've been in your shoes for advice: You're not the first woman in your position, and you won't be the last. Reach out to women in your life who have come back from a career break — whether it was due to extended family leave, a period of unemployment, or something else entirely. These people can be a valuable resource for information, especially if they know you and your circumstances.
  • Prioritize better benefits over maximizing salary: Depending on your family situation, a job that offers the right benefits may be a better choice for you than one with a slightly higher salary. Expanded health plans, childcare credits, flexible working options, and other benefits can all be vital in finding the right job for you and your family as you return to the workforce.

Bottom Line

By looking at employment rates for women, it's clear that gender equity in hiring and the workforce has plenty of room for improvement. With caregiving responsibilities still disproportionately falling on women, encouraging men to take on more caregiving roles can be another way to make the workforce more equitable.

However, while inequalities are still very much a problem, women can and should take advantage of the rise of flexible and remote work options. They can also campaign for better policies around childcare and paid family leave, which benefits all employees — regardless of gender.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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