It’s one of the more disturbing developments of the pandemic: waves of women leaving the workforce. At last count, since March, the job losses amounted to more than 4.6 million.
Many factors are behind the exodus, including women taking on more childcare duties at home than men. Alarmed, many firms are looking for fast answers—adjusting remote work rules, for example, and adding more flexibility. But what can a woman in this spot do? Career experts say it’s important for them to use this time to start working on their return, even if lockdown conditions are overwhelming. Here are some ideas:
Stay connected to your professional network.
If you plan to return to work, it’s critical to stay connected with your former colleagues, mentors, and managers while you’re away from the office. Staying in touch can be as simple as sending an occasional email or text, or actively posting and commenting on LinkedIn. “It will keep you aware of what’s going on in your industry while letting others know you’re still interested in your career and that you want to remain active,” says Simran Singh, a principal in organizational consulting for Korn Ferry.
Update your skills.
Use the time away from the office to update your work skills. Consider, for instance, taking an online course to pick up a skill you’ve been wanting to develop or one that would give you more flexible career options, says Mitali Bose, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s global solutions leader in strategy execution and organization design. She cites a friend who left an accounting job but is using the time well, taking online courses in interior design to pursue a career with more flexible hours.
Find a flexible volunteer opportunity that helps you to stay current in your industry, allows you to develop new skills, or just gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Bose has a friend who volunteers part-time as a mentor and coach for other women. “It makes her feel she is not completely out of it because it allows her to apply her education in developing women leaders, and at the same time she is having an impact,” Bose says. “This type of experience can help you feel confident when you’re ready to jump back into work.”
Take advantage of the gig economy.
If you can’t work full-time, you might be able to take on project-based work that would help you stay current in your field, Bose says. Consider asking your former boss or colleagues if they have a short-term project you can help out with, or if they know of any colleagues who might need help. More companies are hiring professionals to take on short-term assignments.
Invest in a coach.
Taking a pause from work is an emotional decision for many women; the experience can interfere with her ability to feel confident in herself and her skills, Singh says. “Hiring a coach can help alleviate a lot of the guilt and negative feelings,” she says. “It can help to rebuild and reenergize an individual to remain the best professional version of themselves.”