No time to waste: We must get women back into the workforce

Three things the ad industry can do to stem COVID’s setback of women in the workforce.

By now, we’ve all heard the terrifying stat that female participation in the workforce has dropped to where it was in the 1980s.

Almost 2.5 million women in the U.S. have lost or left their jobs in the past year, according to February unemployment data, as the pandemic has forced them to juggle being stay-at-home mothers, homeschool teachers and caregivers while working their day jobs.

In addition to earning lower wages and over-indexing on jobs in the hardest-hit sectors, women are being set back by antiquated cultural norms around childcare.

As with most of COVID-19’s impacts, this crisis is particularly acute among women of color, who hold more government and service sector jobs in hospitality, restaurants and retail, as well as essential jobs at grocery stores and hospitals.

The urgency of the crisis is only growing. As of September 2020, one in four women were considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers due to COVID, according to Lean In and McKinsey.

For the advertising industry, this exodus can have frightening implications.

As years of gains to achieve gender parity in the creative industry get erased, the work we put out into the world will also regress.

With women making more than 80% of purchasing decisions in U.S. households, advertising is more effective when it’s crafted with a female perspective. If we remove women from behind the camera, messages won’t be as relevant. Just look at the Super Bowl this year, where just three women directed spots that aired during the game, leaving female fans wanting more in humor and relatability.

Quite simply, women dropping out of the industry is bad for business.

If we really want to reverse the devastating impacts of this crisis, we can’t just wait for the government to change the law or invest in childcare infrastructure. (We all know how long that could take.)

Companies must take it upon themselves to better acknowledge and support the working woman’s reality. 

1. Be flexible

The pandemic has proven we’re all capable of working from home, whether we like it or not. There’s no longer an excuse to make women feel they can’t hold down a 9 to 5 while caring for their children because of unnecessarily rigid and inflexible work schedules.

Start by setting more flexible standards and policies that better accommodate women’s realities. Whether that’s hiring on a part-time basis, offering unpaid leave or simply allowing women to shift their hours, companies are going to have to bend before this whole thing breaks.

2. Rethink your benefits package

Take a page from Europe and Canada and offer better childcare benefits or paid family leave.

We’ve all seen into each other's homes and acknowledged the mental health toll this pandemic has taken. That toll is even greater for working mothers. So let’s have some empathy and start redesigning a benefits package that’s actually beneficial to women.

3. Reframe the resume gap

Agencies are notorious for shunning candidates with career gaps. But to stop this crisis, we have to actively try to hire back women who have left the workforce for childcare reasons over the past year.

Partner with organizations like Creative Equals, which helps people re-enter the creative industry by reskilling them, giving them interview practice and allowing them to walk away with a new piece of work in their portfolio.

“When you leave the sector, even for one year, you're seen to be out of date,” Creative Equals founder Ali Hanan told Campaign US in a previous interview. “It's really difficult to get back into the role you had before.”

Women are an integral part of your workforce, and the economy, so why use this pandemic as an excuse to finally start treating them like it?

There’s no time to waste.

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