9 Investigates: What employers need to do to bring women back to the workforce

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Women are leaving the workforce in droves during the pandemic, either by choice or because of being laid off, and experts say it will have a massive long-term impact on the workplace for years to come.

Deja Coney is a single mother of three children. A year ago, they were living out of their car.

“We were sleeping in our car, like, we were homeless,” Coney told Channel 9′s Susanna Black. “We didn’t have anything but the clothes on our back.”

Their situation changed when Coney found work as a food prepper at a Charlotte restaurant, and she moved her family into an apartment. She said she worked at the restaurant for about six months, but then the pandemic hit, and she was laid off.

Her situation is far from unique, however. In fact, economic experts call the recession prompted by the pandemic the “she-cession” because of the massive number of women who have been affected.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women have lost more than 5 million jobs since last February, accounting for nearly 54% of overall job losses since the start of the pandemic. During the month of December, the NWLC reported the U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs and that every single position was held by a woman.

Kenny Colbert is the CEO of Catapult, formerly the Employers Association. He told Channel 9 the companies he works with are seeing these statistics in action.

“Whether we like it or not, females are caretakers, so they’re missing work for this,” Colbert explained. “Number one, to take care of sick family members. Or number two, to educate children, who are now doing virtual learning.”

Colbert said larger companies are typically better equipped to deal with women taking time off, thanks to progressive leave policies, something smaller companies might not have. Regardless, Colbert said female employees need flexibility and companies must adapt.

“You’ve got to think outside the box, and you’ve got to be creative right now. You can’t wait for the government to mandate some kind of legislation,” he said.

Colbert suggested companies create job-sharing positions.

“Maybe there’s a job you can have one female do from 8 in the morning until noon, then another female does that job from noon until 4 in the afternoon. So each female gets to take care of their family’s needs, but yet they are bringing in some money and providing a livelihood for their family,” he said.

Looking forward, Colbert thinks companies need to make targeted efforts to bring women back into the workplace.

“Not preferential treatment or anything like that, but make a concerted effort to get them to the interviewing table, so they can be considered for jobs,” he said.

For Coney, going back to her old job wasn’t an option. Fortunately, she was able to land a new job after a couple of months, and she told Channel 9 she’s already been promoted twice. She said she hopes businesses remember what women bring to the table: “We are hard workers no matter the situation. We will make sure we get our work done.”