The pandemic forced all of us to shift course, some to a greater extent than others. Layoffs, furloughs, and business failures created hardships for many workers.
Meanwhile, new technology and shifts in supply and demand closed some doors and opened others. Suddenly, dining out was out, and food deliveries were in. Meanwhile, office workers were sent home to do their jobs remotely.
Women were especially hard hit by COVID's effects on the employment picture. Between February and December 2020, more than 2 million jobs held by women disappeared.
The closure of daycares across the country created a double-whammy. By year's end, the child-care industry had 167,000 fewer workers than it'd had at the beginning of the year, putting thousands of women out of work. At the same time, 81% fewer kids were enrolled; and that was on top of 2.7 million children under age six who were in need of child care but lacking a spot even before the pandemic started.
That meant more moms were forced to choose between pursuing their careers and staying at home to take care of their kids. Working mothers already faced a pay gap, and some 575,000 of them left the workforce between 2019 and 2020 — before the pandemic even took hold.
With all these challenges, women found themselves facing an even steeper uphill battle. There are no simple solutions, but here are some strategies you can follow to mitigate the damage.
Seek out a 'returnship' program
A number of companies have started return-to-work programs that train and find positions for women who are seeking to re-enter the workforce. Companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Walmart already offer such programs, and the list is growing.
As the economy shifts, businesses are in need of new talent to fill emerging niches, and women are a great source of potential that companies are tapping into. Path Forward, a nonprofit that's facilitating return-to-work programs for more than 75 companies, says 80% of those who have entered its program have gotten jobs upon completion.
Returnships present a good opportunity to retrain and repurpose your career for the emerging economy.
Learn a new skill (or two, or three.)
In the traditional economy, if you wanted to move forward, you had a couple of options: pursue a promotion or go back to school for a higher degree.
These days, however, promotions are less likely to get you a significant pay bump than changing jobs. One expert estimates that you can expect a 3% annual raise if you stick with the same company, but a 10% to 20% increase in salary if you change jobs. At the same time, advanced degrees carry less cachet with employers (and cost a whole lot more) than they once did.
Fortunately, there are more ways to maximize your versatility — and with it, your marketability — than ever before. The pandemic created even more opportunities for online learning in a society that was headed in that direction anyway. A growing number of traditional universities are offering degrees online, while training and self-training opportunities are even more numerous.
You can focus your efforts as broadly or as narrowly as you like, entering a whole new field or tweaking your skillset to stay on your current path or start a side gig. Just make sure you set clear goals about what you want to accomplish.
Some skills you might want to consider include:
- Web development
- Computer programming
- Search engine optimization
- Grant writing
- Artificial intelligence
If you always wanted to get into architecture and engineering, consider learning to read blueprints. Or maybe you think you've got a great book in you but don't know how to go about producing it. Self-publishing has opened up a whole new world for authors, some of whom have found significant success without ever sending out a query letter.
Grow your network
It's not what you know. It's who you know. Well, actually, it's a lot of both. The point is that networking has never been more essential than it is today, and the good news is that it's never been more readily available.
You don't have to attend a job fair anymore. Thanks to the internet, networking platforms like LinkedIn and Alignable can put you in touch with others in your field and help you get the word.
Out about what you're looking for in a job or if you're a freelancer, a product you want to promote. Make sure to leverage your existing relationships too. Keep in touch with former co-workers who might have or need tips about job opportunities, as well as former supervisors who can give your efforts a boost.
Women face numerous challenges in navigating the post-pandemic world, but there are emerging opportunities, too. Seeking out networking opportunities, ways to develop and maximize your skillset, and programs/courses that poise you to re-enter the workforce are important steps to take. They aren't just the wave of the future; they're the way forward now.
About the Author: My name is Jessica Larson. I’m a married Midwestern mom and a solopreneur. I create online courses for students, and I’ve started and run several other businesses through the years. My goals are to support my family while still actually spending time with them, to act as an entrepreneurial role model for my two daughters, and to share what I’ve learned through The Solopreneur Journal.