As the summer begins, I am struck by a feeling of calm and the clear perception that normalcy is returning. Los Angeles traffic is back, which tells me people are going back to offices (or at least driving more!). It has been a long 16 months and I am looking forward to a better world now that most of us have been forced to focus on what really matters. Along with this hope, I am uneasy due to the gender disparities made worse by the pandemic. I write this not because I am a woman, but because this reality concerns me as a business owner and executive search consultant.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 400,000 more women left the U.S. workforce than men, and all the December 2020 job losses the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported were held by women. According to the National Women’s Law Center, by the end of 2020, the labor force included 2.1 million fewer women than it did in February of last year, just before the COVID-19 took hold in the United States. The pandemic has presented significant challenges as few other social stressors have done in our lifetimes. COVID-19 has profoundly affected the family dynamic and working moms. The disproportionate burden that women have taken on for tasks beyond the workforce, such as caring for kids or elderly parents and house upkeep, has pushed many women to exit the labor market or to reduce work hours. In general, the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities, both in employment and unpaid work like housework and caregiving. With the reality of this, I have a few ideas about how innovative organizations can get back on track!

Ditch the 9-5. This schedule, along with the idea of full-time and part-time positions as the only options, is outdated and was established decades ago when men made up the majority of the workforce and many women stayed home to care for children and the home. It is unrealistic to think this model still works best. One-size-fits-all work schedules just aren’t effective. We need to shake up the system, creating other options for both men and women.

Offer return to work programs. Think of these programs as internships focused on returning to work. This can be one way to bring experienced women back into the workforce. Consider creating a path to labor force reentry complete with training and reskilling.

Finally, never let them go. What if, instead of women leaving, they just changed lanes. We shouldn’t be talking about on ramps and off ramps. Just move them to a different lane, keeping them engaged with you in a different way. That way, when they are ready to come back to traditional work, you have an established relationship with them and then can continue to contribute.

Giving grace to other people and having grace for yourself is the most important tool as we (hopefully) see the last days of this pandemic.

Have a great summer everyone!