woman with red hair sitting at computer working


  • COVID-19 has negatively impacted women in the workforce both in terms of job loss and recovery.
  • Traditional gender roles, essential function tasks and employer policies have attributed to women exiting the workforce.
  • Return-to-work plans (“returnships”) can help women return to the workforce and fight resume gap bias.
  • Reskilling and providing flexible schedules also offers women more opportunities in the workplace.


The COVID-19 pandemic has created a true problem for women in the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.2 million fewer women were working in Oct. 2020 as compared to Oct. 2019. Why? According to outlets like Forbes, CBS News and many others, the exodus is primarily the result of two factors: (1) The extended need to care for children and/or older family members during the pandemic and (2) Being overworked, underappreciated and, often times, furloughed and/or laid off because of too much time trying to balance work and reason no. 1. The National Women’s Law Center said female workforce participation dropped to 57% in 2020, its lowest level since 1988.

Despite the progress women have made in the home and workforce over the last several decades, a study appearing in the Journal of Applied Psychology revealed how familiar gender patterns arose again during the pandemic. The effect? More strain on working women. According to the research, childcare tended to fall into women’s responsibilities among heterosexual married couples where both spouses were working full-time. Additionally, men were found to do more work outside the home with more opportunities to focus on their careers.  

A collaborative report by The Century Foundation and Center for American Progress estimates the risk of mothers either reducing hours or leaving jobs altogether amounts to $64.5 billion in lost wages and economic activity. To add to this strain, many women occupy jobs labeled as essential (health care, grocery, etc.), which require their physical presence to perform. This also resulted in the United States being unable to “achieve continued economic growth” while failing to “protect and advance gender equity.” 

Now, employers have an opportunity to take steps to reverse this trend – and it starts by enacting policies that are more family-friendly and empowering to their female workers.



Gaps on resumes can affect all job seekers but the pandemic made this fact even more significant and widespread. The problem is so prominent that it prompted LinkedIn to add several “stay-at-home” job titles to its listings in recognition of how COVID-19 will amplify this problem for thousands (if not millions) of employment candidates.

Research shows that if there is only one woman in an organization’s candidate pool, she has little to no chance of being hired. Employers need to recognize women seeking a return to work in many cases are available because of circumstance, not lack of skill, talent, experience and/or drive. 

Working with a PEO or talent search firm can be one way to expand your talent pool and have someone to help implement a return-to-work (or “returnship”) program. Amazon is among those using a returnship program; its 16-week, paid and benefit eligible virtual returnship provides participants with work assignments to help them “reintegrate into the workforce and acclimate to Amazon’s peculiar ways.” At the end of the program, qualified candidates may be offered full-time employment. In addition to Amazon, Walmart and PayPal are among other companies that have had help creating successful return-to-work programs.

While every company may not have the luxury of extending a returnship comparable to Amazon’s, developing one that’s right for your organization could be key to not only acquiring new workers but also retaining talent. In addition to providing candidates a chance to explore and become acclimated to a new career option while earning income, these programs provide employers the opportunity to meet qualified candidates it may have otherwise missed. 



Training employees on new skills with a plan for implementation into new and/or expanded roles is another step organizations can take to combat the exit of women from the workplace. As many companies discovered during the pandemic, having workers cross-trained in more than one role can become incredibly helpful when a business model is turned upside down.

For many organizations, flexibility has been among the most successful strategies to keep women in the workplace. Formerly something many feared, the productivity in remote work shown in the last year has left workers and companies seeking some form of permanent flexible scheduling. 

Global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas reported more than 84% of companies began offering some form of schedule flexibility during the pandemic with 95% reporting some or all elements would continue after COVID-19. Social media giant Twitter made news Oct. 2020 with its unprecedented announcement that its 5,200 employees can work remotely forever if they so choose – and they may be ahead of the curve. According to Challenger, Gray and Christmas Senior Vice President Challenger, “In order to attract and retain the best talent, companies should embrace the technology that allows remote work and flexible schedules. The commitment to diversity and mental health support that was brought to the forefront in 2020 will only help these efforts.”

Creating unique return-to-work programs, offering flexible schedules, and cross-training your employees will be key to bringing women back to work. However, this can be an undertaking for small- and mid-sized businesses. At Erigo, our experts specialize in supporting organizations implement policies through sound recommendations and alleviating them of time-consuming, but necessary, human resources tasks. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you expand your talent pool and implement policies that are right for your organization and employees.