Why supporting women in the workforce is more crucial than ever

Tips and resources to help give your female workforce the support they need to succeed

The COVID-19 pandemic has had considerable repercussions for U.S. employment, and women in particular are feeling them. As the pandemic escalated, many women dropped out of the workforce—whether because of public health measures that affected industries employing a high percentage of women, or because some women made a difficult decision to stay home to support the new realities of family life.1 Either way, the result has been a dramatic decline in the number of women in the workforce.

“This trend is extremely sobering because we know that a diverse workforce benefits companies and the work they do,” said Holly Thomas, MD, MS, and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. “We need to act now, and there are a number of impactful ways to do this.”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicated that as of March 2021, 4,008,000 women age 20 or older were not a part of the U.S. workforce, up from 2,881,000 during the same time last March.2 These statistics are alarming and require a closer look at how employers can reverse this trend with resources and policies that support women in the workforce.

Supporting women = better workplaces for all

As the workforce transitions to post-pandemic life, employers are wondering how to retain their female employees and recoup the losses they’ve experienced. Focusing on employee satisfaction is more critical than ever because satisfied employees tend to be more productive and stay in their jobs.

Fair pay is a major component of career satisfaction that is lagging for women. Pay discrepancies plague the U.S. workforce. According the BLS data, median weekly earnings for women were $894, or 83.4 percent of the median of $1,072 for men in the fourth quarter of 2020.3

“It’s important for employers to look at how they are doing with pay and promotion so that they have the data they need to answer the question, ‘Do these discrepancies exist in my organization, and if so, why?’ Being paid fairly for work is going to make all aspects of being a working woman easier,” said Dr. Thomas.

The positive impact that women can make in the workplace is far-reaching—extending into and benefiting all levels of organizations. This won’t happen without understanding and action from employers. Employers must make a concerted effort to recognize the innate value that women bring to organizations in terms of the different ideas and approaches that they can contribute, not on the sidelines or in the wings, but at the head of the table. The more organizations not only support, but empower and uplift women in the workplace, the more they can benefit from the value that women bring to the workforce.

“If you support fair promotion, you will end up with more diverse teams in C suites and positions of leadership. If you have women in those positions of leadership, they may have ideas that would never occur to teams without those types of members,” said Dr. Thomas.

Ways employers can support their women workforce

Company culture can go a long way in supporting women, who often take on significantly more unpaid work at home. According to 2019 BLS data, on an average day, 22 percent of men report doing housework, compared with 46 percent of women.4 Areas surrounding company culture that can lead to needed improvements include:

  • Providing tools and programs that support mental and physical health.
  • Promoting self-care.
  • Creating a culture of mentorship and coaching.
  • Investing in leadership and training programs.
  • Taking measures to ensure fair pay and promotions based on merit.

Work-life balance also plays a large role in employee satisfaction. “Women have struggled with how to remain productive while wearing all of these different hats and keeping all these different balls in the air,” said Dr. Thomas.

Ensuring that women have access to the care they need, whether in person or through telehealth, is another critical support measure. According to Angela Huggler, MD, FACOG, UPMC Williamsport, “Telehealth has been huge for new moms, especially for postpartum visits. We can still talk to women about important topics like birth control and postpartum depression, but telehealth allows women to have that conversation from the comfort of their own home.”

The pandemic has caused an incredible amount of stress for many people, especially women—making access to mental health services paramount. “Even pre-pandemic, we knew that rates of mood disorders like depression and anxiety are higher in women, and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Dr. Thomas.

Offering an employee assistance program (EAP) is another value-added benefit because it shows your employees that you are committed to their overall well-being, including their emotional, physical, and other needs.

Mobile apps, such as UPMC Health Plan’s RxWell app, can help employees manage their emotional and physical health. “For people having difficulty accessing formal therapy, this can be a supportive tool, especially women who are disproportionally affected,” said Dr. Thomas. “It’s very user friendly and provides an opportunity to learn evidence-based skills.”

Family leave is another area employers should examine to ensure sure they meet the needs of all women. “Sometimes employers assume that all family leave needs are related to childcare. But there are many women in the workforce who don’t have young children, but have other types of needs that require support,” said Dr. Thomas.

How UPMC Health Plan can help

We provide top-quality care to all of our members. When it comes to women’s health concerns, UPMC Health Plan can help our female members and their families enjoy the best health possible.

Together, we can help you provide these benefits and more to your covered employees:

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Find out more about our employer group coverage:
Contact your producer or call 1-833-825-2696.

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