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The Great SHEturn to Office

So much has been written about the forced mass exodus of women from the paid workforce during COVID-19. We know that women accounted for nearly 54% of job losses since the beginning of the pandemic and that Black women and Latinas were disproportionately impacted.

There are those, myself included, that argue the SHEcession is not new.

What we just experienced was the swift abdication of non-college educated, non-professional women from the paid workplace. These women – hotel housekeeping staff, restaurant workers, grocery cashiers and so on – have for years stayed in the paid workforce because they had to – until COVID made it impossible for them to stay.

But, the reality for millions of college educated women is significantly different. In doing research for my book, Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career, I learned that college educated women have been leaving the paid workforce in droves for decades.

Did you know that since 1985 more women than men have graduated from college? And yet, between 1985 and 2016 (when I completed research for my book) adult women’s participation in the paid U.S. workforce stagnated around 73%. By comparison, Norway, Germany, and most other European countries saw a significant increase of women in the workforce and are now closer to 85-90% participation.

According to a 2013 study by Professor Joni Hersch at Vanderbilt University Law School, college educated married women with children were 20 percentage points less likely to work full-time than those without children. And 57% of women who attended the most elite schools either down-shifted or left the paid workforce completely after they had children. iRelaunch, an organization dedicated to helping women return to the paid workforce after a career pause, has estimated that as many as 2.3 million professional women are out of the paid workforce during any given year.

I wondered why…

The answer from my 186 interviews and survey of 1,500 high achieving women revealed that a toxic workplace culture was the reason the vast majority left. The tipping point? Motherhood. Oh they could tough it out despite the unconscious inappropriate comments, the unequal pay, the long and twisted road to promotion, even the outright sexual harassment, but once children came into the picture, most of them told me they had an “awakening” and decided their human capital was better spent elsewhere.

A “Great Awakening” is happening. As Arianna Huffington recently wrote,

“People are redefining success….we’re seeing is a shift to living lives based on a more fulfilling, intrinsic and sustainable definition of success that adds to the first two metrics the third metric of well-being — which includes resilience, and being able to tap into our own inner peace, joy and wonder.”
In this liminal time of Covid, we are collectively asking ourselves, “Is there a better way of being, a better way of living, a better way of working?”

We, at PrismWork, believe we have an opportunity to make lasting change at work and who better to reimagine a new way forward than women, and particularly
Women of Color?

We’ve partnered with nFormation, an organization created by Women of Color for Women of Color, to understand what’s working at work and what needs to change.

We need your help. We are conducting a nationwide survey to ask all women what they want and need from their colleagues, their bosses, their companies so they can thrive in this new world of work.

Our 15-minute survey asks women to share their experiences, their skills and abilities, and their vision for what they need to truly bring all of their talents to the world. ALL who self-identify as a woman are encouraged to participate. (Men, thanks for your interest. If you’d like a copy of our insights, sign up here.)

Here is a link to the survey. If you identify as a woman, please take 15 minutes to ensure your voice is heard.

And, yes!, feel free to share this link with your network. The more we hear from ALL women, the more we can co-create a path to an inclusive, thriving culture for each and everyone of us.

As you probably can anticipate, after the Great Awakening comes the Great Resignation. Your culture is the key to retaining your great talent. Learn more about how PrismWork helps companies make culture their competitive advantage.

We plan to publish our insights so that leaders like you will have a blueprint for the 21st century workplace. If you’d like a copy of our report, sign up here.

Thanks for your help in spreading the word about our survey.

Lead On!

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Lisen Stromberg

Lisen Stromberg is a Consultants Collective member consultant and the CEO and founder of PrismWork. Lisen is a workplace culture innovation and leadership expert who works with clients to help them build next-in-class 21st century cultures with the future-forward leaders their company needs to succeed. As an award-winning independent journalist, her work can be found in The New York Times, Fortune, Newsweek, and other top media outlets. Her book, Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career, reveals how trailblazing women disrupted the traditional career paradigm to achieve their personal and professional goals and how forward-thinking companies create workplaces that enable women to thrive.

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