How can CEOs change the hiring landscape? Focus on re-enrolling women

When it comes to “climbing the corporate ladder,” women have long dealt with the challenges of managing rising careers while being the caretakers of families.

And then the pandemic pushed them off the proverbial ladder.

Data shows that of the 5.4 million women that left the labor market during the pandemic, 3.5 million of them were mothers, creating a big disparity in the workforce.

As women “returned to home” when schools shut down and child care was minimally available, their exit created a gap in the workforce, one that small and midsize businesses are still struggling with today as 72% of CEOs report they are not able to operate at full capacity due to talent scarcity.

As more jobs are being created and unemployment nears record lows, small and midsize businesses are in a unique position to capitalize on this source of talent returning to the workforce.

As former PepsiCo CEO and Chairman Indra Nooyi recently shared with the Visage community, “There’s a lot of talent sitting there on the sidelines that we can re-enroll. Many of them are extraordinarily educated women. Extraordinarily educated, hungry for financial freedom, economic freedom.”


Developing a care ecosystem

As COVID-19 moves from being a pandemic to being endemic, now is the time for leaders to evaluate the opportunities to re-enroll women in the workforce, starting with building the “care ecosystem” that can not only help them return but help all caretakers in the workforce.

“Today’s leaders — especially men — must support women rising into leadership positions,” says Nooyi. “Real change and integrating work and family is not going to happen without men in power helping drive the discussion and implement solutions.”

As allies, men can take a critical role in changing the norms by investing in solutions that goes beyond honoring family commitments but actually creating a standard for policies and benefits to support them.

Nooyi offers 3 things that businesses can do to leap ahead:

1. Paid leave

Aside from the pandemic, family leave often takes qualified workers out of the workforce, especially those in the early stages of their rising careers. To lessen the impact and encourage return, companies can create universal plans for both maternity and paternity leave.

Nooyi shares that women who take leave are 93% more likely to be in the workforce 12 months after returning than women who take no leave.

For leaders wanting to preserve their talent and create a culture of inclusion that encourages new parents to continue to contribute over the long term, paid leave is a not just a benefit to the individual, but to the company as well.

2. Flexibility and predictability

To help all workers — not just women — be able to actively prioritize their families, employers can create schedules that enable them to have better work-life alignment. Work schedules should be organized around productivity rather than presenteeism, giving workers more choice for when and where work gets done.

Shift workers can be offered predictable schedules at a minimum to be able to schedule care.

This allows them to settle into a schedule that their family can work around. Taking it up a level, companies should also explore non-traditional schedules that offer flexibility like creating new shifts that allow for family time. This flexibility will help maintain productivity as well as drive loyalty.

3. Care

Childcare is costly and, at times, hard to find for working parents, especially in the developmental years before formal education starts. Many families find the costs — both the hard cost and the opportunity cost — make it a more feasible or even desirable option for one of the parents to exit the workforce.

“The biggest investment we can make is to build a reliable, high-quality care infrastructure for ages birth to age 5 as well as the entire cycle of life,” says Nooyi.

Business leaders can realize this investment as a competitive advantage, helping them retain as well as attract those who might otherwise remain sidelined by their priority to care for their families.

Creating a return ramp for women

In addition to the care ecosystem to attract women to their businesses, leaders need to look at their workforce today to ensure that women who do take advantage of leave, or exit the workforce to raise a family or care for a loved one, have what Nooyi calls a “return ramp.”

A return ramp enables women who left the workforce to stay connected and current with the company, best practices in their function and advances in their industry. This ensures a seamless transition back into the workforce.

Certainly, a path for former employees to return to the workforce has advantages. They understand the culture. They are valued contributors. Their onboarding process is much shorter. And the cost to re-hire is significantly less.

But it requires a program like the “Ready to Return” program Nooyi implemented during her final years at Pepsi. With workforce demographics shifting due to boomers exiting the workforce, Nooyi believes we are “in a unique time in our lives where we have to devise interesting programs to enable people to have families and engage in paid work.”

But to attract women to the workforce, and specifically to your company, there is a bigger issue at play. Do you offer what these talented women are looking for?

Strategies to re-enroll women

Leaders should look inward to their own organizations, ensuring they are set up to meet the needs of this segment of the workforce. Developing and promoting a care ecosystem within their company can be a competitive advantage in hiring for many small and midsize businesses.

Ask yourself these questions to see how well you could compete today and what strategies you might develop to re-enroll this critical workforce demographic as a solution to your hiring challenges.

  • What policies and benefits do we offer that provide support for caregivers?
  • What do we offer in terms of flexibility and predictability of schedules for employees who are caretakers?
  • How can we contribute to a care infrastructure that will not just support our employees, but our community as well?
  • How do we stay connected with women who left the workforce to raise a family?
  • How do we encourage those on leave to return?
  • What do we offer that would attract women who are re-entering the workforce?
  • How do we promote our policies and benefits to prospective workers?

One of the most inspiring things Nooyi shared was her perspective. “This is not a political issue, it’s a human issue,” she says, “and we have to come together and think of it as humans and put the human back in our collective humanity.”

Women can connect with other female leaders across Vistage about this important topic and others at the upcoming Women in Leadership National CEO Conference on June 24.


Related Resources

Women in Leadership Resource Center

7 lessons from exceptional women leaders, inspired by Indra Nooyi

Great books for women in leadership

Category : Leadership

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About the Author: Anne Petrik

As Vice President of Research for Vistage, Anne Petrik is instrumental in the creation of original thought leadership designed to inform the decision-making of CEOs of small and midsize businesses. These perspectives — shared through repo

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