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Why are women still leaving the workforce?

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Women Still Grappling with Workforce Challenges Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Three years have passed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet women continue to navigate an evolving workplace landscape. According to Deloitte’s third Women @ Work: A Global Outlook report, the current situation is a mixed bag. The report, which surveyed 5,000 working women in 10 countries, reveals that while some conditions have improved, women still face numerous hurdles.

One area where improvement has been noted is burnout. However, women are still striving to address their mental health needs in work environments that offer limited support. They find themselves being excluded from flexible work arrangements, burdened with the majority of domestic responsibilities, and subjected to microaggressions—particularly LGBTQ+ women and those who are not white.

These challenges have resulted in many women seeking alternative employment or leaving the workforce altogether. Emma Codd, global inclusion leader at Deloitte, pointed out that women are departing because they are not receiving what they desire or require. In Deloitte’s 2022 report, burnout was cited as a top concern, with 46% of respondents identifying with this description. However, Codd noted that burnout is no longer the primary driver for women leaving their jobs. In the 2023 report, 30% of women reported feeling burned out.

While this decline in burnout is positive, it is overshadowed by concerning findings regarding mental health. The report shows that 35% of respondents rated their mental well-being as poor or very poor, which is similar to the 2022 figure. Additionally, approximately half of the women reported higher stress levels compared to the previous year.

Furthermore, fewer women feel that they can access adequate mental health support from their employers. In 2022, 43% of women felt comfortable discussing mental health at work, but in 2023, that number dropped to 25%. Only 25% of women feel at ease taking time off work to care for their mental health, a decrease from 39% in 2022. This alarming mismatch indicates a worsening situation in a realm where support should be readily available and open discussions encouraged.

The push to return employees to physical office spaces is also contributing to women leaving their jobs, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Deloitte found that the second most common reason women chose to resign within the past year was the “lack of flexibility around when I work,” with pay insufficiency being the first.

The report also highlights that 97% of women fear asking for flexible work arrangements due to potential negative career implications, and 95% believe that their workload would not adjust if they were granted a flexible schedule. The high prevalence of these concerns suggests that many women are working within fear-driven and resource-scarce cultures, possibly influenced by an implicit or explicit “pregnancy tax.” This refers to the assumption that having children diminishes their dedication and commitment to their jobs. Jessica Kriegel, chief scientist of workplace culture at Culture Partners, emphasizes that most new mothers would go to great lengths for employers who offer flexibility and support. Therefore, the gap lies in employers failing to embrace and accommodate these needs.

Amidst the formal messaging about flexibility as an acceptable option, there is an underlying expectation for women to return to physical offices. While Codd herself enjoys a hybrid work arrangement, she acknowledges that many people, especially women, find the expectation to return to the office unsuitable. She states that well-implemented hybrid work brings significant benefits to work dynamics, and it holds great importance for many individuals.

Apart from challenges within the office, women also face external pressures that affect their careers and work. Despite 88% of respondents working full time, nearly half of them have primary responsibility for domestic tasks at home, including parenting, and only about 10% say those duties are mostly the responsibility of their partners.

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