Labor Shortage? Depends on Who You Ask. What if women are the answer to our labor problem?
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Before the pandemic, in the days when unemployment rates were at record lows and everyone seemed to be able to find the job of their dreams, I was unemployed.
Daily, the news would announce that we, as a nation, had reached full employment levels (the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines this as "an economy in which the unemployment rate equals the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU), no cyclical unemployment exists, and GDP is at its potential").
And yet, no one had an interest in hiring me.
This, although I held a doctorate degree, had run two successful 6-figure businesses, had written an Amazon best-selling book and had demonstrated ability in business, writing, marketing and management.
Resume after resume went ignored. What didn't I have?
For one, I didn't have corporate experience (at least recently) and perceived youth (I was over 40). I had spent a few years at home, then a few years as an entrepreneur — a combination that left me outside of what corporate HR was seeking.
For nearly all of 2021, we have read article after article about the labor shortage affecting businesses across the United States. Business owners and HR departments have lamented the lack of applicants, blaming everything from government subsidies to the shifting attitude regarding the way we work.
A short search on online job boards offers results for white-collar jobs in tech, service jobs and warehouse jobs. If a reader of these results didn't know better, you'd think that there simply weren't enough qualified people to fill these jobs.
But is that the truth? Is it that there are simply not enough people to fill the available jobs? Or could it be that the issue, at least in part, is who employers are over-looking and who is being left on the sidelines of this hiring shortage?
Women and the workforce
So is there a hiring shortage? Yes. But it's not that simple. There is also a large segment of the population that employers don't or won't consider.
According to reports, somewhere between 1.8 million and 2.3 million women dropped out of the workforce as a result of the pandemic. Older women and women of color suffered even more. Many are unable to return as they must now deal with increased childcare costs and inflexible schedules. These issues cause career disruptions that can be a challenge to overcome when the time comes to re-enter the workforce.
Some startling statistics
During the pandemic, when schools and workplaces shut down, a whole new set of responsibilities fell to mothers of young children in disproportionate numbers. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, 54% of working moms say they have felt like they could not give 100% at work since the beginning of Covid. Many of these women may be subject to dramatically reduced career opportunities because of this time.
Another group struggling with job loss and lack of opportunity is women over 40. According to the AARP, since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, 14 percent of women ages 40 to 65 have lost their jobs. Many others saw their work hours reduced, were laid off or had their salary or hours cut.
This loss of economic opportunity leaves many women unprepared for retirement and without the ability to obtain employment at the level of salary or prestige that they may have held pre-pandemic.
This is where the issue of age discrimination begins to rear its ugly head. For many of the women over 40 seeking employment, employers are reluctant to consider them because of their age. Another issue is that many of these women are overqualified for entry-level positions, leaving them out in the cold when it comes to employment.
Solving the problem
It can be frustrating for women seeking employment to hear in media reports that there is a labor shortage across all industries and that employers are taking measures to offer bonuses, additional paid leave and other perks to attract talent.
How would the labor shortage change if employers looked outside of their self-made boxes and reached out to the untapped labor markets like stay-at-home moms or older women? Could we end, or at least reduce, the number of job openings that lower productivity for companies across industries?
Reaching women who have been forced out of the workforce due to age or childcare duties requires that employers consider benefits such as flexible schedules, work-from-home and hybrid work modules. It also requires employers to consider women of color and older women when making hiring decisions.
This cultural shift will require employers to consider women who — up until this point — have been largely unemployable in traditional corporate roles. But to solve the labor shortage? It might be time to get serious about making this change.