The latest U.S. jobs report shows promise. Women gained 83% of the 372,000 jobs added to the economy in June 2022, marking 18 consecutive months of job growth for women. But as recovery feels within reach, this momentum begs the question: What type of workplace awaits?

While over 2 million women have landed in trade, transportation and utilities, and over 2 million in education and health services, since April 2020 over 3 million job gains for women reside in hospitality and leisure (one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic), where jobs too often have high turnover, low wages and limited flexibility and benefits.

I was lucky. Like many working moms, a rotating set of responsibilities fell into my lap at the start of the pandemic. With little warning, I was striving to fill the shoes of the many professionals my kids lean on in a typical school day: math tutor, classroom assistant, cafeteria attendant and afterschool advisor, all while working full-time. Stepping up was necessary, but it would have been impossible had I not been supported by an organization that allowed me to stay employed while working remotely and offered empathy as the realities of remote work and school collided: My son interrupting a virtual meeting, panicked, because he couldn’t find the right math worksheet, or me needing to block out time or take calls from the kitchen as I was on lunch or snack duty.

My situation is far from the norm. Nearly one-half of all working women reside in low-wage roles, where such accommodations are scarce, and this rate increases for Black women (54%) and Latinx women (64%). Deloitte’s 2022 Women @ Work report found that nearly one-half of working women are suffering from burnout, and over one-half would like to leave their employer in the next two years. Put simply, the issues women face are much more complicated than a missing W-2. To stay competitive in the war for talent, companies need to adjust systems and processes to address the obstacles facing 57% of the workforce.

Goldman Sachs’ returnship program is one example of a program that has achieved notable results. Launched nearly 14 years ago, the training program supports workers impacted by the pandemic, who were either laid off or left voluntarily, and now have been out of the workforce for two or more years. Program participants, otherwise up against steep biases for their resume gap, are able to gain six months of practical, paid experience and top performers ultimately emerge with offers for full-time positions across consumer wealth management, engineering, operations, legal and other departments.

It’s no coincidence that 90% of Goldman Sachs’ program participants to date have been women. While caregiver responsibilities are not limited to a particular gender, in the past year, women have experienced higher rates of job and income loss and are also more likely to have taken unpaid time off for personal, family or medical reasons. Returnships offer marketable job skills without requiring a loss of income or the same time investment needed to pursue a new degree.

Such opportunities are essential, given women are at greater risk for their jobs to face elimination due to digital advancement. There is widespread need for streamlined and financially viable paths to career transformation, and for companies, this represents an opportunity to fill mission-critical talent. Consider CODE: Rosie, Disney’s 15-month reskilling experience for female employees in non-technical roles. “Rosies,” many of whom have never previously written a line of code, are able to embark from work in fine dining or as a language translator to securing roles as entry level software engineers at Walt Disney Imagineering, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios and other properties. Reskilling programs like CODE: Rosie help to bridge talent gaps, while boosting job satisfaction and retention by addressing one of the top reasons behind employee departure: limited opportunity for advancement.

Even before the pandemic, women and in particular women of color faced substantial promotions gaps. In the fall of 2020, Black women were less likely than any other group to report feeling like a valued member of their team and that they were treated with respect in the workplace. Now pandemic-era surveys find nearly 60% of women in hybrid environments feel they have been excluded from important meetings and women, and particularly women of color, report experiencing much higher frequencies of microaggressions than male counterparts. Establishing skills-based recruiting and hiring practices is critical, but equally so is building structures to ensure employees of all gender and racial identities are able to arrive in well-paying, flexible roles without needing to push through toxic work environments.

In practice, this means priming management to support career development thoughtfully, by having senior leadership support and participate in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training, developing culturally competent training programs and recognizing the value of soft skills, like team collaboration and communication, when assessing performance. Women tend to excel in these areas. Women leaders, for example, are more likely than their male counterparts to ensure manageable workloads for teams, provide emotional support and check-in on overall employee well being. By prioritizing inclusive company cultures, employers can not only foster better performance from employees but create a more sustainable work culture that makes top performers want to stay.

As open roles go unfilled, company leaders and talent teams have been trying countless avenues to draw and retain new talent. But any high impact effort – from a four day work week to hybrid office plan — is incomplete without addressing the obstacles that have been facing women long before their workforce exodus. This mirrors a well-known principle often deployed in user experience (UX) design — universality. When we adjust structures to eliminate friction for one particular group, working women, the benefits carry well beyond the initial target audience.

By better addressing the issues disproportionately affecting women, and particularly women of color, like burnout, affordability, exclusionary work cultures and time limitations, jobs won’t just be more accessible for women; they’ll be easier to access for everyone.

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