What does it really mean when women step back from work? How to protect our financial futures.
Since COVID began, we’ve been processing the impact of the pandemic on women’s careers. With 1.1 million women still out of the workforce since 2019, it’s clear that the the impact will be long-lasting. But how much, exactly, does stepping back from the workforce cost the average woman? A tool from the Center for American Progress provides a glimpse into the pandemic’s cost on future earnings and retirement. To understand what ‘taking time off’ would actually cost me, I tested out the tool — and was shocked by the results. I would potentially lose $450k in lost wages, $363k in wage growth and $291k in retirement assets and benefits.
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While men and women both face work-and-life stressors and losses, the reality is, females (moms especially) carry the vast majority of the mental load and household duty burden when it comes to dual-gender family units, according to Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., founder of Modern Mommy Doc, and author of ‘The Working Mom Blueprint.’
“When push comes to shove, women are more likely to take a step back from their professional obligations to take care of their kids’ needs,” she says. “As women miss out on opportunities to be present at work during the pandemic, they also miss out on opportunities to weigh in on decisions, to be included in discussions that impact them, to prove their professional worth, and, ultimately, to advance their careers.”
So, what can women do to protect our financial futures and boost our career progress? We spoke with experts on the considerations women should make before stepping away from work. And remember: privilege plays a vital role in this. Many women, especially those of color, do not have a choice in the matter. If you do, consider yourself among the lucky.
Have a candid discussion with your partner and/or parenting village
Before stepping back from work, Casares says women should consider if they have other alternatives. At first, it may seem like an impossibility, but if you don’t discuss and research, you won’t know for sure. Casares says women should ask themselves (and their support system) these questions:
- Could they cut down a percentage of the work for a short period of time, asking their partner to do the same at his or her job?
- Are there other parents who could trade childcare days with them?
- Could they get creative with their work schedules – working off-hours one day while their partner works regular hours, and then vice-versa?
Do the math
Samantha Ettus, CEO of Park Place Payments, says she’s witnessed many couples doing faulty math by looking at the cost of childcare and comparing it to the lesser earning spouse’s income for one year. This is the wrong approach, Ettus says, because our careers are long while the baby years are short. “Once a woman steps out, it is very hard to return. So the math needs to be five years of childcare compared to the number of potential working years of the lesser earner,” she explains.
Discuss your situation with your employer
When LinkedIn News polled its users on the benefits working women said would help them work, ‘flexibility’ scored the highest. However, Caroline Fairchild, the professional network’s Editor-At-Large, says now it’s becoming more of an expectation than a perk. That’s why she recommends discussing your new needs with your employer, rather than leaving the workforce altogether. “It may be possible to arrange a more flexible work policy with your employer that better suits your schedule and needs,” she continues.
Or, if you need, say, a month off, try to gauge how open your manager might be to a short leave of absence, Fairchild recommends. “Managers are becoming more understanding of the demands working women are facing right now, and it might be in the best interest of both parties for you to take a leave of absence and then come back and resume your role,” she adds.
If you step away, stay active
Whenever you step back from work, try to leave one pinky toe in the door. As Ettus recommends, this means keeping your contacts warm, planting a seed for your return, and finding a side hustle, if you have time. If you leave your job completely for a few years, in the months before your anticipated return, “start talking about it among your friends and former colleagues so that you can hit the job market running when the time comes, and take on freelance projects,” she shares.
And if all you’re able to do during this season of your life is keep your head above water, that’s fine. But if you have the energy, time away from work could give you space to invest in your skillset. In fact, this could be the opportunity to tap into a growing industry with in-demand proficiencies, according to Jeanniey Walden, the chief innovation and marketing officer at DailyPay. “When you’re ready to return to the workforce, you could be ready to tackle a new, potentially more lucrative career,” she says.
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