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One of the sad and disappointing effects of the COVID pandemic (aside from the tragic loss of life) is that a disproportionate number of women have had to leave their jobs, either temporarily or permanently. Time Magazine reports, “Between August and September, 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics September jobs report. In the same time period, just 216,000 men exited the workforce.”

Why is this happening?

It could be any number of reasons. For one, industries that are female-dominated (education, service industry jobs, child care, etc.) have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Also, due to at-home schooling and daycare centers shutting their doors, there’s becoming a greater need for parents to stay home with children. And, guess what? The lowest wage earner is inevitably the one who will stay home, which is typically the woman (As of 2020 women make an average of $.81 for every $1.00 a man brings in).

We can’t solve the gender pay gap in one blog post. Nor can we give women all the safety nets they need (affordable childcare, paid maternity leave, etc.). However, we CAN focus on one key question to attempt to turn around this grim situation:

How can women re-enter the workforce once they are able to come back?

I’ll be frank. Once you leave the workforce for an extended period of time, the cards are stacked against you. Resume gaps never look good, and you may fall behind on industry advancements and new skillsets. However, there ARE a few steps you can take to make yourself a more enticing candidate to future employers. Here are four steps you can take:

1. Never Stop Working

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it IS possible to avoid resume gaps by doing very part-time work at home. If you’re a graphic designer, for instance, you might take on the occasional freelance project. If you’re a writer, you could volunteer for your neighborhood newspaper. If you specialize in social media marketing, you could put in some hours volunteering for a friend’s business. If you have a finance background, you could consider becoming a virtual financial assistant (typically a very part-time gig).

Yes, not every job is conducive to part-time, at-home work. If you used to work in healthcare, for instance, you can’t exactly care for patients in your free time at home! Instead, consider volunteering in a relevant area or skip ahead to tip #2:

2. Stay Relevant

When you leave a job, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on your industry and refresh your skills, when you can. Sign up for newsletters, read articles, or listen to podcasts related to your industry.

If you have the time and bandwidth, consider taking an online class or pursuing relevant certification. You might even connect with a local college or university to see if they’re offering any useful classes for people who are not full-time students.

3. Network

Never stop networking. According to Diane Flynn, co-founder and CEO of Reboot Accel, “About 85 percent of women returning to work find jobs through their network.”

Even if you’re temporarily working as a homemaker, you can still continue to keep in touch with your network. Send the occasional email or LinkedIn message to former co-workers, join an online women’s networking group, or check out Toastmasters.

Once you’re ready to start looking for work again, don’t be afraid to make your job hunt public. Post about it on social media, send emails to friends who could possibly assist you, and drop your former co-workers a line. You never know who might say, “Yes! I know of a job opening that would suit you perfectly!”

4. Tap Into Resources

Believe it or not, there’s an entire industry set up to help people re-enter the workplace after a long break. Firms such as iRelaunch or companies offering reentry programs (sometimes called “returnships”) are actively seeking to hire people who have been out of a job for an extended period of time.

You might also contact your alma mater’s career center for guidance or work with a career coach who specializes in worker reentry.

5. Don’t Sell Yourself Short

If you are trying to re-enter the workforce after a significant break, there is absolutely no need to feel shame or embarrassment. Push those feelings aside and concentrate on your enthusiasm and your relevant skills and expertise. Demonstrate that you are ready to hit the ground running and willing to put in the legwork to do the best work possible.

If an interviewer asks about a gap on your resume, don’t shy away from the question. Instead, be honest! Tell them you had to temporarily stay home to care for your school-aged children, but you’re now ready, enthusiastic, and as prepared to work.

Remember: Your volunteering experience, memberships, and online classes/certifications count! If, for example, you sat on the PTA or organized an annual fundraiser for your church, be sure to tout that experience and demonstrate its relevance. For example:

“For three years I spearheaded my church’s annual walk to end hunger fundraiser. As chair of the committee, I was in charge of 30 volunteers, organized all the event logistics, and tracked over $10,000 in donations.”

In sum: Don’t sell yourself or your experience short!

Re-entering the workforce after an extended break is often not an easy task. However, with a little foresight, some planning, and the tenacity to seek resources and lean on your network, you CAN make a successful workplace reentry. The right job is waiting for you; be bold enough to seek it out and seize it!


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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