The Top 3 Reasons Women are Leaving the Workforce during the COVID Crisis


(And How Employers Can Keep Them)

September of 2020 saw over a million Americans leave the workforce, meaning they have left jobs and are not looking for new work. Of that million, 865,000 of them were women. Female representation has fallen to where it was in 1991 and more women are considering leaving the workforce for good.

Why? The unique circumstances of the pandemic have intensified the pressures working mothers have felt for a long time. 

  1. Virtual Learning 

    One of the biggest reasons many mothers are stepping out of the workforce is because K-12 schools are on a full or partial remote learning schedule. 

    More than 10 million of all working women rely on child care and schools to keep their children safe while they work. As K-12 school continues remotely in many parts of the state and country, parents are needed to help things run smoothly. From printing materials, to setting up technology, and ensuring children had a quiet space to learn, parents continue to have a lot more on their plate. 

    In fact, more than two-thirds of mothers said school and child care changes during the pandemic had a “moderate or severe impact on daily life.” And that impact is felt especially in minority homes. Black women are even more likely to consider stepping back from work because of the pandemic. 
  2. Additional Caregiving Responsibilities 

    Nearly one third of child care centers in North Carolina remain closed because of COVID-19. And since the COVID-19 pandemic began, nearly 60 percent of employees working for large companies say they are spending more time on child care and family caregiving. 

    For years mothers have had to take on the “double shift,” meaning they work in a full-time job, and then take on most of the work in the home. Mothers are 1.5 times more likely than fathers to spend 20 hours a week on child care and housework. During this pandemic, that double shift is certainly taking a toll, especially for the 1 in 5 mothers who don’t have a live-in co-parent.
  3. The Wage Gap

    Nearly half of all U.S. workers are women, and 41 percent of mothers overall (and 68 percent of Black mothers) are the sole or primary breadwinner in their home. 

    However, there is still a deep, often unconscious belief that women’s earnings are not central to their families’ economic security, which correlates directly with a gender wage gap. Women still earn just 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. As households with different-gendered parents grapple with the decision to have someone stay home to manage child care needs during COVID-19, it may make the most financial sense to let the higher wage earner keep working. 

    The slippery slope is that when someone steps away from the workforce, they have lower wages when they return. As women take a step back for the sake of their families, we risk growing the gender wage gap.

What Employers Can Do
In order to slow down this exodus of women, there are several business policies employers can implement to show their support of women and their families. We’ve listed a few here, but for even more ideas, check out our Guide to Family Forward Workplaces and Rapid Response Return to Work Kits.

Child Care Support
Employers can help directly or indirectly with child care needs by offering on-site licensed child care, child care subsidies, Dependent Care Savings Accounts, or back-up child care. Support for child care needs — especially now and especially for employees who cannot work remotely and must report to a workplace outside the home — reduces absenteeism and increases productivity. Support for child care also lessens stress and financial burden for employees and their families. For a more detailed employer resource for child care support options and to help families find care, click here.

Remote Work
By allowing employees to work from home or some other remote site, mothers have the freedom to watch their children as they work. And if you’re thinking this will lead to a decrease in productivity, studies have shown that on average teleworkers are actually 35 to 40 percent more productive. Plus, your employees will be less likely to leave since telecommuting leads to greater job satisfaction.

Flexible Working Hours  
Many workers are finding their 9-5 has changed during the pandemic to 8-10 then 12-4 and then 6-8. A flexible working hour policy gives parents the freedom to plan their day around the needs of their families as they all figure out how to operate their days together. That’s why 43 percent of large companies and 38 percent of small companies are offering flexible work schedules.

A policy like this also builds employee loyalty, meaning women are less likely to leave. In fact, 92 percent of employees who feel like their employers are providing flexibility and support while schools and day cares are closed plan to stay in their job for at least the next 12 months. 

Job Sharing 
In a job share, two or more employees share a single job, each working a fraction of the necessary time. Splitting the time with a colleague helps parents focus on their families and their jobs without feeling torn by either. This framework increases productivity and overall job satisfaction – helping moms stay in the workforce.