The global pandemic continues to have a profound impact on the role of women in the workforce and there doesn’t seem to be any letup in sight, said Rebecca Henderson, CEO, global business, and executive board member of Randstad.

In her opening address at the Women in HR Tech Summit on the first day of the HR Technology Conference, Henderson said the toll of the pandemic on women—millions of whom have dropped out of the workforce to manage added childcare responsibilities and for other reasons—is threatening to reverse decades of progress. Now, many women have real concerns about returning to the workforce and may have to restart their careers to catch up to their male colleagues.

Rebecca Henderson speaks at Women in HR Tech

“Things were moving in the right direction but clearly, as the pandemic hit, women chose to take a back seat,” she said. “For the first time in years, female participation [in the labour force] has gone backwards.”

She added, “Women taking a pause means a much longer time to re-entry.”

Henderson said this so-called “She-cession” is being made worse by conditions already facing women in the workplace. For instance, she said, women are made redundant at a rate of 1.5 times that of men, often because they have lower-seniority roles than their male counterparts. For every 100 men promoted to a first-level management role, she added, 86 women were promoted to the same roles—a gap that could continue to widen given the pandemic.

“Getting back to where we were is quite difficult,” she said.

There are also many steps employers can take, she said. Many women returning to the workforce or seeking new opportunities will be looking for roles that offer flex time and hybrid work opportunities—and they should be able to access them without backtracking their careers. “We will see more women resigning and leaving for jobs that recognise their expertise but they are going to go for lower-title jobs for work/life balance reasons and not their careers,” she noted.

Job training, upskilling and mentorship have never been more important, especially for women and women of color, Henderson added, particularly for women who are starting back to new roles that require different skill sets. “Mentorship and coaching are necessary to get back to the workforce,” she said.

The impact on working parents in the UK

Many working parents were hit hard by the pandemic as they struggled to balance their job with home-schooling. Not only did this impact their career development but it had a huge impact on wellbeing and family life. Whilst some managed to juggle both, others were unfortunately forced to make some tough decisions. 

In the UK, the market has shifted in recent months and employees are enjoying more control again - fuelling the Great Resignation. In a recent Randstad survey we found that a competitive salary is still the top driver behind employees choosing to remain in their current role (21%) but this is closely followed by a good work-life balance (17%). This signals the importance of flexible and hybrid working at this point in time.

flex@randstad leading the way

At Randstad, we believe that you shouldn’t have to choose a fulfilling career over childcare responsibilities, amongst other things. Your work life and personal life should work seamlessly together and provide you with a healthy harmony between the two. We’ve seen our people adapt to a new, more flexible way of working with no impact on their productivity, while at the same time being happier and healthier with their working arrangements. This is why we have introduced flex@randstad. 

With Randstad’s ‘flex@randstad’ offering, you have the opportunity to find a work/life harmony that suits you. Having a family and balancing childcare around your work is no issue at Randstad. We start at a position of trust and so long as the arrangements do not affect business or our clients and candidates, you are free to find an arrangement that works for you.

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