What women want: Supporting female talent in the Great Reengagement

Throughout the pandemic, 54 million women were erased from the global economy

What women want: Supporting female talent in the Great Reengagement

The issue of equality, of what constitutes an ‘equal society’, has been debated for centuries. And while in today’s modern age we may have convinced ourselves that men and women have achieved a gender parity, that’s rarely the reality. In actual fact, women still bear the brunt of inequality – especially when it comes to their professional lives. Take the pandemic, for instance, in which 54 million women were erased from the global economy – to which they have not bounced back.

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It seems as if it’s always the case – be it a pandemic, a recession, or simply a reshuffle - that female employees are disproportionally ‘let go’. And now, as businesses struggle in the Great Reengagement, employers are seemingly desperate to get women back into business – but they’re not coming easily.

According to a recent report from the O.C. Tanner Institute, female employees are calling for very specific benefits in order to be lured back into the post-pandemic workplace – specifically flexibility.

“Women want flexible schedules, career development, support resources and diversity in leadership,” Meghan Stettler, director of the O.C Tanner Institute, told HRD. “Organizations that are actively fulfilling these four needs will be able to hire the diverse talent pool necessary to meet the challenges of our time. The good news is that most employees report that their organizations are providing policies and programs to fulfill many of these desires.”


Flexibility has always been a much-desired perk – but the pandemic turned what was once a nice to have into a core necessity. What’s more, when organizations provide a flexible work schedule, it increases the probability of inclusion for female employees by 53%.   

“Flexibility is the silver lining of the pandemic,” added Stettler. “But a successful flexible or hybrid model is more than just dividing up the days between home and office. It’s about understanding what your people need to succeed in all aspects of their lives and giving them the autonomy to co-create with their leader the best individual, culture, and business outcomes according to role and personal preference – focusing on work output rather than presenteeism.”

Career development

Career development placed as the second most important benefit for women – and it’s not really surprising it did so. During the pandemic, employees took it upon themselves to reskill and upskill. Now, as we move out of the reactionary pandemic phase, employees expect their employers to continue where they left off.

“Being flexible isn’t the only thing that will bring women back,” Stettler told HRD. “Organizations have to offer something better: special projects, stretch assignments, leadership opportunities, and personalized environment for growth and development.”

Stettler advises employers to ask two questions to their people in regards to L&D. Firstly, ‘What is important to you outside of work?’. And secondly, ‘What role would you love to do - whether it exists or not - and what can I do as your leader to champion your development in this company?”

Asking these questions allows you as a leader to better understand individual employee goals. After all, when it comes to career growth, there’s never one size fits all strategy – particularly for women. However, if organizations help women continue their professional development, it increases the probability of great work by 85%.   

Support resources

When organizations provide support resources, it increases the probability of engagement for female employees by 215%. Let that sink in for a moment. Support resources are an often overlooked benefit – one that is both cheap to roll out and massively helpful for returning employees.

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“I’m encouraged by the number of return-to-work programs, day care facilities and caregiver resources, as well as the variety of wellbeing initiatives present to destigmatize mental health,” added Stettler. “Organizations need to provide holistic policies, programs, and benefits for women and their families to succeed.”

Diversity in leadership

Ah, diversity. What was once a meaningless buzzword is now a core strategy – one that has the ability to make or break a company. But beware false promises – paying lip service to authentic DEI can be more harmful to an organization than saying nothing at all. Remember - when at least 50% of senior leadership is female, it increases odds companywide of great work by 374%, engagement by 1,607% and inclusion by 803%. 

“In 2020, 54 million women were erased from the global economy, and they haven’t come back,” Stettler told HRD. “What do women want and need to reenter the workforce?  Autonomy in flexibility, personal mastery in career development, holistic support resources and diversity in leadership.  Whole life awareness will create cultures where women not only thrive and do great work but achieve their best life's work.”

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