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What Companies Need To Do NOW To Keep Women In The Workforce

Anita Darden Gardyne  |  December 21, 2020

A company CEO dishes on what needs to happen for women to work their dream jobs, and live their dream lives. 

Attracting and retaining professional women in the labor force is a challenge that companies have been battling for years as they seek to win in competitive marketplaces. I’m one of the 43% of professional women with children who chose to leave the workforce to care for my family, and eventually returned to it, as the founder of my own company focused specifically on the intersection of work and family care. Although this was long before COVID entered our lexicon, I’ve experienced these challenges from all sides and have made it my mission to create opportunities for more women to remain in their careers.

And right now women need help — 45% of us say we’ve taken on an even larger share of household responsibilities compared to our significant other since COVID began, and nearly four out of 10 working women are actively considering leaving the workforce or reducing their hours, according to research from Fidelity

So, where do companies start? First, they need to understand the tremendous value of women in the workforce, and the incredible contribution their insights and perspective provide in all facets of business operations. The loss of women in the workforce is a blow to companies’ abilities to reach goals, whether those are revenue expectations, product entry deadlines, or diversity targets. Lack of diversity can impact executive compensation plans and affect corporate requests for proposals for years to come. In many states, as with my home state of California, businesses are legally required to give women spots on boards of directors, and this has left some companies scrambling to find the best women in a very limited market. The stakes for hiring and retaining women have never been higher.

How To Get There: A Step-By-Step 

Let’s get specific. Attracting and retaining talent of caliber, like my new executive assistant Lucy, requires focus. Getting the very best from Lucy requires placing her in roles where she can be strategic and successful. I know she’s going to crush it in the position she was hired for. My challenge is keeping her motivated and thriving as she and my company grow. Providing her with flexibility and choices starts on day one, and her coaching is daily and weekly, with less reliance on annual reviews.

Keeping someone of Lucy’s talent and drive starts with a competitive salary so she can live in Silicon Valley. Workers cannot give their best if their mind is preoccupied with how they’ll pay rent, or how they’ll manage to help out an elderly parent. With the aging of our global society, more companies must offer women solutions to the additional challenges they face as primary caregivers. (This, of course, also applies to many men who provide significant amounts of in-home care.) As an entrepreneur, working mother and caregiver for an aging parent, I firmly believe that companies that make subsidized, trusted in-home care available to their employees will ultimately win the hiring and retention war.

At the same time, companies that offer great traditional benefits including 100% paid family medical, dental, and vision programs will also fare well in attracting and retaining talent. COVID has certainly increased the value of Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and Health Spending Accounts (HSA) benefits, as families consider using pretax dollars to pay for approved care. Ensuring employees have access to affordable care will continue to be an imperative to attract and retain women.

Lastly, having time to give to nonprofit organizations is increasingly important for many employees, as it is for me. Early in my career, I spent time volunteering on my child’s parent-teacher association, and when my employer gave me this flexibility, it was a welcome way for them to show their support of the WHOLE me. These meetings took me out of the office monthly and connected me fully into my kid’s world. I know that Lucy and other women and men on my staff will have their own causes and interests, and I’ll see to it that they have the flexibility and support they need, just like I did. 

In the end, I know I have to compete with other employers to attract and retain great talent. I need Lucy at my company, but I know there’s another employer out there somewhere who would love to steal her away from us. (After all, I wooed her here.) Benefits with options, and continued exposure to mind and career enriching experiences are my best opportunities to retain talented women. Pay and benefits alone aren’t enough. Smart employers invest in women and support their diverse needs so that everyone can truly thrive.

About The Author:

Anita Darden Gardyne is President and CEO, Onēva, Inc., an employer-provided technology platform that matches FBI background checked in-home care providers with employees to help them achieve greater work-life balance and peace of mind. 


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