With 470,000 new jobs in February, at first glance, it looks like America is back to work. Truth is, there's a lot more behind the numbers that point to a long-standing battle around true gender equity. According to the National Women's Law Center, men have completely recouped pandemic employment losses, regaining all the jobs they had lost since February 2020. For women, especially those from underrepresented communities, it's a different story. 

This year's International Women's Day marks a significant and harrowing milestone: nearly two full years since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and since then, more than one million women who left the labor force have yet to return. One study suggests that this moment in time is when a gap in work history starts to be detrimental, as the chances of getting an interview fall by more than 50%.

So, while it can be easy to say we're making real progress in job growth, we're lightyears behind where we should be if we're paying attention to the long-standing structural inequalities for women. If we want to make true progress on the gender divide, we need to be doing more. As leaders and organizations, we need to build a new normal, one that's truly equal. Here are three ways we can start:  

  1. Embrace Humanity at Work 

Over the last two years, the arbitrary line between life and work dissolved. I would argue, we should keep it that way. As flexibility in when and where work gets done becomes a non-negotiable, so does having empathy for embracing all that entails. That means normalizing the human elements of working at home with children, modeling authentic leadership through vulnerability, and making space for folks new to their careers to connect meaningfully. 

Famous for codifying weirdness in Zappo's core values, Tony Hsieh, the late, great former CEO, was known for saying "at the end of the day, it's really not so much bringing weirdness to the workplace...it's really more about bringing humanity back to the way business is done." I wholeheartedly agree - humanity is the ultimate competitive advantage. 

  1. Take the Friction Out of Recruiting

My mom spent all of her energy for 20+ years raising four kids, then re-entered the workforce after I finished college. She's the most empathetic person I know, and incredibly bright, and the idea that folks like her who take career breaks have to jump through hoops to get back into the workforce is silly to me. We need to proactively welcome parents and caregivers back into the workforce whether they've been out for six months or six years, and companies need to actively remove barriers to help make that happen. That means re-writing job descriptions to address imposter syndrome, advising recruiting teams on LinkedIn's new career gap tool, and training hiring managers to interview for transferable skills. 

  1. Create an Environment of Support

It's not enough to just hire women re-entering the workforce. It's equally as essential to retain them. Providing dedicated programming for returners is one way to help set them up for success long-term. Take, for example, HubSpot's Returner's Program. This 20-week program provides training, support, and growth opportunities to help people upscale their skills, and transition back to work in a meaningful way. Some of our most passionate, engaged, and celebrated employees came to us through our Returners Program, showing that these kinds of structured support systems really do work.

The bottom line: if you plan to retain returners long-term, providing these career growth and upskilling opportunities are mission-critical. Having women in leadership positions boosts company performance means that investing in women and their growth is an investment in your business. 

According to a recent MetLife survey, 63% of women who left their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic want to restart their careers. And, leaders and companies have a responsibility to help make it easy to return to work by embracing humanity, taking the friction out of the recruiting process, and creating an environment of support. This Women's History Month, let's rewrite history by building a new normal, one that provides equal opportunity and support.