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Decline of women in the workforce is an 'alarming' HR trend

Employers are trying a variety of strategies to reduce employee turnover, but a major problem facing them is bringing women back into the workforce, Gartner says.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a set of new labor force risks, but the leading HR trend may be the situation facing women workers.

Women left the workforce in droves during the pandemic because they were in industries, such as hospitality, that reduced operations, and were faced with addressing child care needs because of disruptions in daycare and schools, among other problems. There were "2 million fewer women in the labor force than before the pandemic," said Michelle Bowman, a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, in a recent talk

Women's global job losses due to the pandemic were 1.8 times greater than men's, said Katie Sutherland, an analyst at Gartner. "This should be alarming."

Women "are deprioritizing their careers" and leaving the workforce, Sutherland said, at the firm's ReimagineHR virtual conference. Recruiting alone won't solve the problem, she said. "Instead, work needs to be redesigned to suit the needs of women."

Sutherland said women want to control their schedules and not be excluded from promotions because they aren't in the office five days a week. Managers should be "assessing performance fairly, regardless of whether their team members are in the office or not."

Another HR trend facing employers is high turnover if employers do not offer remote work options. 

Up to 39% of employees may leave if we force a hard return [to] Monday to Friday, nine to five.
Graham WallerAnalyst, Gartner

"Up to 39% of employees may leave if we force a hard return [to] Monday to Friday, nine to five," said Graham Waller, a Gartner analyst. Employees will want more flexible options and development opportunities to improve their career growth, he said.

In a recent survey of about 570 HR managers, 71% cited the offering of "more flexibility options" as the their top response to mitigating turnover. The next two priorities for stemming turnover involved training. In fourth place, cited by 43% of managers, was to "leverage talent analytics more to better understand retention risks."

Flexibility applies to front-line workers

Flexibility is still an option for front-line workers who staff retail stores and industrial shops, Waller said. Employers can give employees more options to work at different locations if there are multiple warehouses and retail outlets. Manufacturing companies are also providing employees with transparency about career opportunities.

Employers are responding with more flexible work options, said Vitorio Bretas, a Gartner analyst, during the conference.

In 2019, the percentage of flexible work jobs made up 3.7% of the total job postings; it was at almost % in 2021. This 4% increase works out to about 1.8 million job postings, Bretas said. It is an HR trend that is happening across industries, he added. 

As far as remote work's impact on pay, while some firms are reducing the pay of employees who move to low-wage locations, many other firms aren't making any changes at all, Bretas said. "There's no right or wrong approach," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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