I read an article today on CNBC that talked about small business closures nearing peak pandemic levels. Here I was thinking we’re almost on the other side of this. Vaccinations are being offered to everyone in almost every state. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel….yet businesses are still closing their doors at record rates. The CNBC article said that “22% of US small businesses were closed in February”.
It goes on to say “Female-led businesses saw 25% closure rates, while 20% of male-led businesses closed”. This caught my attention because I’ve read a few other articles discussing workforce attrition during the pandemic. The number of women that have voluntarily left the workplace or have been severed and chose not to return significantly exceeds the number of men. We are entering a season with less women working for themselves or others. I wonder why…
Why are more female-led businesses closing their doors compared to their male-led counterparts?
Why are more women leaving the workforce than men?
The answer lies in the mythical work/life balance we all strive to achieve. Men, if you’re reading, don’t take this the wrong way…but women tend to carry more of the load when it comes to cooking, cleaning, and taking care of family needs. If you’re one of the men that carries that burden, I salute you! But it’s not the norm. Even with an amazing partner that splits the physical activities, women generally spend more time and energy thinking about, planning for, or even worrying about these needs. The quantity and complexity of the home and family needs increased dramatically during the pandemic. I’m not surprised more women have closed their business or left their jobs.
If this doesn’t resonate with you, keep reading …you may not feel this way or have these experiences but I guarantee you have at least one employee that does/has. Understanding the needs of your employees can save you from expensive turnover costs in the future. It can also help you attract top talent going forward.
My best point of reference for why women might be leaving the workforce (as employees or business owners) is personal experience. So I’m going to tell you MY experience. Not because I know what every company should be doing but because I hope it help some feel understood and triggers productive conversations for others.
When my former employer started closing their doors and severing employees, I was exhausted. Like many parents, I’ve gotten the dreaded call that your child is sick and you need to come get them right away. I’ve worked from home with a sick kid. But I’ve rarely tried to work from home with both of my healthy, energetic, and inquiring children. A sick child lays on the couch or in their bed sleeping or watching a movie. I can totally cuddle and work on a laptop. A healthy child is different. They want to talk, play, have fun, and spend time together. They don’t understand what’s going on. They don’t understand why you can’t “make” time for them in the middle of a work meeting. Add in virtual school and I was done.
At the same time, there was this glimpse of a lifestyle I’ve never had before (especially once the schools opened back up in person). I didn’t have to wake up at 5am to exercise before getting myself and the kids ready for the day. I could run a load of laundry between tasks or meetings. I was actually home to cook dinner every night instead of sitting in 1-2 hours of traffic. I felt more productive in 2-3 hours by myself than I might have been with all the office chatter. I was able to get my hours in AND take my kids to their swim team practice myself. I didn’t need to hire someone else to take my kids to their activities.
Couple all of this with a culture, at least in my circle, that is really leaning in to self-care and you’ve got a reason to review your priorities. Is the money we make worth the 10-12 hours a day we might spend making it (when you factor in commute, and lunch, and additional hours)? Don’t get me started on the gap in how much that money is compared to our male counterparts. That’s where I found myself at the end of 2020 and my response was that there has to be a better way.
Not everyone can afford to step away or start a business like I did. Many don’t want to. That doesn’t mean they’re any less tired or intrigued by what this pandemic has shown us. So how do businesses move forward from here?
Lessons to be Learned
As offices reopen and require their employees to return in person, employers need to make sure they’re asking themselves why. I promise, your employees are. There are plenty of great reasons to require a return to the office in person. Even something as simple as employee morale can make sense. But if there isn’t a reason or that reason isn’t communicated, the employees are left thinking the reason is a lack of trust.
Some people want to return to the office. If there isn’t a good reason for or against a return to the office, consider optional or hybrid models. Some companies have moved to a “hotel” arrangement for workspace rather than designated offices. Others might be working in the office one week and from home the next. Still others might offer remote work arrangements based on position or desire.
There’s Value in Part-Time
Consider the pros and cons of part time employees and/or flexible business hours. A 30 hour work week fits easily between school drop off and pick-up times for busy parents. You’d be surprised how little difference you see in the productivity of a committed employee when “business hours” are set at 30 hours a week vs 40. Yet simply by offering this option, you can make a world of difference to that employee. You become their best option.
Yes…the Answer is Yes
In my opinion, and based on most of the statistics about unemployment rates and small business closures, the pandemic is definitely redefining work life balance…especially for women. It forced many people to see their lives and lifestyles differently. This includes their work and workplace. Companies need to acknowledge the influence this pandemic has had on their workforce or they are at risk of losing the talent they have invested so much money in obtaining and training.