Unions are Helping Women Get Back to Work. Here’s How.
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Millions of women were forced to drop out of the workforce during the pandemic, largely due to a lack of access to child care after schools and daycares closed during lockdowns. As children return to school this fall, many of those working moms will be looking to reenter the workforce.
This won’t be easy for them after sitting out of the labor force for such an extended period of time.
“The problem is that we have a lot of evidence that when you take time out of the labor force, it can be very difficult to get back in,” says Martha Gimbel, senior adviser at Council of Economic Advisers, The White House. “And the other aspect of this is you are not then making progress in your career. You are not getting promoted. You are not building out skills and experience that will cause future employers to pay you more money.”
Labor unions can help ease the uncertainty and anxiety that will undoubtedly accompany women as they return to work, as well as provide women with ways to overcome some roadblocks they may face. Here’s how.
Negotiate Benefits Favorable to Working Women
Working moms need more from their employers. The mass exodus of women from the workforce during COVID highlighted just how important it is for companies to offer benefits that enable women to balance work- and home-life responsibilities.
This time of reentry provides organizations with the perfect opportunity to address this issue and develop policies. And the pressure is on them to do so.
“Now is the time for real change,” writes digital marketing consultant Jessica Milicevic, owner of Maven Media and an advocate for working moms. She calls the inflexible workplace model outdated and says it simply doesn’t work.
Unions can help make the change happen by negotiating on the behalf of women to secure critical benefits that enable working women to meet the demands they face at work and at home.
Flexible Work Schedules
What working women need most to help them reintegrate into the workforce is flexible working arrangements.
According to a survey of working women by Deloitte, 65 percent report having additional household duties and 58 percent report having more child care responsibilities as a result of the pandemic. In order to juggle those responsibilities and be productive at work, they will need flexibility in their work schedules. Such working arrangements can include remote working days, abbreviated work days, and shorter work weeks. Through negotiations, unions can secure work schedules that allow women to be present both at work and at home.
As with all employees, women want to be fairly compensated for the value they bring to their employers. Working mothers don’t want to return to jobs where they earn $0.75 to every $1.00 working fathers earn, which is the typical salary gap according to research from the National Women’s Law Center. And they shouldn’t be expected to.
“The labor market [also] needs to more fairly compensate women for their work,” write Nicole Batemen and Martha Ross with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. Unions can make this happen by negotiating higher, more equitable wages for working women.
Paid Family Leave
Another issue that is a concern for women is being able to take time off to care for their families. The pandemic brought to light the challenges presented by the fact that the U.S. does not have a national family paid leave policy. The lack of such a benefit forced many workers to choose between earning a paycheck and taking care of their children.
Women returning to work don’t want to be forced to make that choice again. Unions can alleviate this burden by negotiating family paid leave policies for all workers.
Child Care Financial Assistance
Child care costs can price women out of work, especially in a post-pandemic economy. The Center for American Progress estimates the average annual daycare costs for families with infants is slightly over $1,300 per month, or $16,000 per year. Simon Workman, principal at Prenatal to Five Fiscal Strategies, says those costs rival the price of a college education in many states.
To make it financially feasible for working women to send their children to daycare, employers will need to offer them incentives that account for the costs of child care. Unions can negotiate those subsidies for women.
Facilitate Networking Opportunities for Women Looking to Return to Work
After being out of work for so long, many women may not be able to return to the same jobs they had before they left the workforce, says C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. These women are going to need help moving into new positions.
Networking plays a big part in creating new opportunities for those seeking jobs in different industries and roles. But meeting new people and expanding their professional network isn’t easy for women who have become disconnected from the labor market and don’t have the support systems to help them find their way back in.
Unions can help them rebuild and expand their networks, which will be crucial to their ability to find new jobs.
By nature, unions are a community of professionals. One way union leaders can help working women build new professional networks is by facilitating connections between members who can serve as professional “guides” for women returning to work. This can be done through union meetings, social hours and virtual conversations.
Unions can also host job fairs to help women make new connections with other professionals, such as the annual Union Job and Resource Fair arranged by community organizations and three local unions, the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation, Saint Paul Building & Construction Trades and United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1189.
“Unions are a powerful force in our community,” says Kera Peterson, president of the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. Hosting job fairs is one way they can use that power to bring companies and workers together to foster relationships that will help bring women back into the workforce.
Encourage Employers to Build Mentorship Programs to Help Advance Women’s Careers
While out of the workforce to care for their children during the pandemic, women lost precious ground in career development and advancement. It may be difficult for many to overcome that deficit.
“Especially for those at a critical point in their career—maybe in the mid-career marathon where they’re looking to get into their first manager role or break through to the next level—there’s usually a window of opportunity to make those big jumps, so these extra hurdles can really set them back,” says Seena Mortazavi, CEO at mentoring software developer Chronus.
Mentorship programs can help women get their careers back on track. Mentorships can provide them the support they need for not only catching up in their industry but also allow them to realize their full potential in their careers, setting them up for future success.
Union leaders can help employers develop these programs. With their expertise in building such programs within their own organizations, unions can guide employers in developing effective mentorship programs that encourage women to rejoin the workforce and move forward in their career paths.
With schools back in session, women are going back to work. Unions can help them reintegrate into workplaces that recognize the imperative of balancing career life and home life. A tool like UnionTrack ENGAGE can help union leaders communicate with women on what their needs are and how to best meet them.
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