It’s a topic that has made headlines for months now: What does the return to work look like for the droves of women who left the workforce in 2020 due to the pandemic? According to the Los Angeles Times and the U.S. Census Bureau, four times more women than men left their jobs and women were more likely than men to sacrifice their career for family. There is plenty of awareness concerning the issue, but what comes next? In celebration of 2021’s International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I want to highlight some tips and ideas for how women can move forward and, as the IWD theme encourages, choose to challenge any metaphorical debris that 2020 may have blown into the path of progress.
If you were one of the many who found themselves stepping back from work, here are some things you can do if you have your eye on making a workforce comeback.
Brush up on your skills and knowledge.
Now is the time to brush up on your work skills and knowledge. Start by researching what has changed when it comes to technology and tools. Staying current in your field will give you a leg up and help your resume stand out. In a recent article from Korn Ferry, Mitali Bose, a senior client partner at the firm and the global solutions leader in strategy execution and organized design, says use the time away from the office to update work skills. Bose also suggests taking online courses to help pick up skills you want to develop or skills that would help you in pursuing a career with more flexibility. Finding one-time projects and gigs can also help you stay current and in the know.
Manage your time at home well; think of ways to prep your routine.
While you’re gearing up for returning to work, make the most of this in-the-mean-time season. It’s easy to keep trying to do it all when it comes to managing your preparation to get back to work and also managing your life at home. It can feel daunting to even add an extra thing to your plate when some much of it is filled with household and family management. Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play, shared her thoughts in a recent Forbes article on women looking to return to the workforce. Rodsky say, “Start by rebalancing the workload at home. If you’re the person in charge of everything, you’ll never have the mental capacity to get back in.” She suggests taking inventory of the things that can be handed off and restructuring. “You would never walk into your boss’s office and ask, ‘What should I do today?’ and then sit there until they tell you,” she says, “But that’s what we’re doing in our homes every day. We are dying in decision fatigue. Plan ahead, and own a task from conception to planning to execution.”
Naomi Cahn, Senior Contributor at Forbes, echoes this idea in another recent Forbes piece, and she also calls companies to think about doing their part. “While women can and should take charge of their mental health during this time, individual women don’t bear sole responsibility for making things better,” Cahn says. “Companies need to begin thinking strategically about how they get women back into the workforce while also supporting them through the challenges they continue to face in balancing home responsibilities with their work.”
Reach out to your network.
Networking is still as important as ever when it comes to moving forward in your career. Networking nowadays may take place in a more digital way than in-person, but socializing online has only been made even more accessible and easier thanks to new platforms, more online-only events, and online spaces designed for face-to-face conversation. I’ve shared in the past about creating a life board of directors and managing your sphere of influence. Reaching out to those you’ve already built a relationship with is a good place to start, but don’t stop there. Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College and a cognitive scientist, shared some advice in a USA Today article about steps women can take to get back to work in the pandemic. She points out that it may be easier now to connect because of how the pandemic pushed socializing online. Beilock says, “I would urge women who are looking to reenter the workforce to really flex those connections and know that there’s new platforms…to do that.” She recommends setting goals and to try reaching out to at least one person a week. “What you’ll find is that those conversations are enjoyable … for the most part,” she says, “and that they lead to ideas and opportunities that you wouldn’t have imagined.” Reconnecting with people in your sphere is a good way to search for those one-time projects and find career opportunities you hadn’t thought of before.
As you forge ahead, know you’re not alone. As the saying goes, setbacks can also be opportunities. Now is the time to strategize. Maybe your reentry into the workforce begins on a career path you hadn’t considered or didn’t feel confident enough to go for. Take inventory of what you’ve got under your belt, and then move ahead with the tips and ideas above. This could be the fresh start you needed, and a new chance carve out the career path you really want.