Many Women Are Rejoining the Workforce After COVID Cost Millions Their Jobs

December 17, 2020

Photo of woman working in apothecary

We could all use more silver linings these days  — and after a particularly gloomy year, especially for women in the workforce, we’re happy to share some sunnier news. 

But first, the storm clouds: In the aftermath of COVID-19, millions of women lost or left their jobs. Before the pandemic, women performed 75% of the world’s unpaid domestic labor; that burden grew heavier when lockdowns forced schools and childcare facilities to close. 

You can see similar trends in LinkedIn’s hiring data. “Right away, we saw a dip in the share of women who were being hired,” says Karin Kimborough, LinkedIn’s Chief Economist. If you look at the gender split of new hires, you’ll notice the share of women dropped dramatically at the start of the pandemic.

Now here’s the silver lining: After that massive decline from March to May, the share of female new hires surged back almost as quickly as it fell. In fact, in a number of countries, the gender split of new hires has actually improved for women year-over-year. In other words, women make up a larger share of new hires than they did before the pandemic. 

That said, these are just silver linings. The situation is still extremely difficult for many women, especially those who aren’t reflected in this data: women who left the workforce but aren’t looking for a new job yet, and those who aren’t on LinkedIn (and therefore aren't included in this analysis). And despite the rapid recovery among new hires, the drop during the first months of COVID-19 was still severe and will have long-lasting consequences. 

As for why it’s happening, it’s almost certainly a reflection of existing inequities. Women shoulder much more domestic labor at home than men. 

“As a working mom, myself,” says Karin, “I think a lot of it was that women were just busy. They suddenly had kids at home, they had child care or elder care responsibilities. And so they were definitely pulled out of the workforce a bit.”

What women look for in an employer (and what you should highlight in your pitch)

Fortunately, the remote work arrangements that so many employers have adopted do make it easier to bring women into your company. Compared to men, women were over 20% more likely to say flexible work arrangements were a top priority when considering a new job, according to LinkedIn’s November survey of thousands of employees around the world.

With widespread vaccinations on the horizon, you can expect more women to re-enter the workforce as COVID gets under control and eventually fades away. That makes it a great opportunity to build a more gender-diverse team. 

To make the most of that opportunity, your job descriptions and early interviews should highlight what matters most for women. Here's a ranking of what women value most in an employer — and how those priorities have changed after several months of living with the pandemic.

Along with flexible work arrangements, the top priorities for women are:

  • Work-life balance 
  • Compensation and benefits 
  • Inspiring colleagues and culture 

But even more interesting is how all these priorities changed since the last time this survey was fielded in March. The priorities that gained the most importance were: 

  • Flexible work arrangements 
  • Job security 
  • Inclusiveness

Those first two clearly speak to the current COVID reality (working while social distancing, holding a stable job in a time of uncertainty). 

The third priority that became more important — an inclusive workplace for people of diverse backgrounds — is less obvious, but could certainly be linked to the Black Lives Matter movement that spurred new discussions about diversity and equity in the workplace this summer. Remote work may also be making people feel more isolated, which could make an inclusive work environment more appealing.

Whatever the cause, focusing on these elements of your job offering can help you make a more compelling case to women. 

The end of the COVID era is in sight. As hiring picks up, we expect to see an influx of women returning to the workforce. The storm clouds haven’t passed yet, but the silver linings are in sight — now it’s up to you to make the most of them. 

Methodology

Behavioral insights for this report were generated from the billions of data points created by hundreds of millions of members in over 200 countries on LinkedIn today. Gender identity isn’t binary and we recognize that some LinkedIn members identify beyond the traditional gender constructs of “male” and “female.” If not explicitly self-identified, we have inferred the gender of members included in this analysis by classifying their first names as either male or female or by pronouns used on their LinkedIn profiles. Members whose gender could not be inferred as either male or female were excluded from this analysis.

The share of female hires among new hires is the number of women who started a new job in a given month, divided by the number of men and women who started a new job in a given month. To measure the changes in the female share of new hires, the year-over-year analysis takes the difference in this measure between the given month and the same month of the previous year (e.g., the share of female hires in January 2020 is compared against the share of female hires in January 2019). 

Survey results based on March 2020 and November 2020 editions of the LinkedIn Employer Value Propositions Survey of global members. LinkedIn members were asked to select the five most important factors when considering a job opportunity from a list of 15 value propositions. 

This post was co-written by Greg Lewis in collaboration with Insights Analyst Ross Murray and Economic Graph Data Scientist Jenny Ying.

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