In 2021, the women’s labor force in the U.S. hit a 33-year low with women leaving the workforce at record rates.
The question is: Now that it looks like we might be emerging from the other side of COVID-19, where does that leave women in the workforce?
Turn obstacles into opportunities
The pandemic pushed women to reevaluate their priorities and make necessary changes. Many have reassessed their non-negotiables and are now demanding more from their employers, as well as in their home life and relationships. In many ways, the market is rising to meet them.
Employers are offering better pay, benefits and more flexibility. Women who switch jobs are also seeing significant pay increases. About 31% of women who changed jobs during the pandemic got a compensation package — including salary and bonus — that was more than 30% higher than in their previous role according to a survey from The Conference Board.
Overall, women’s wages are increasing at a faster rate than men’s (up 4.4% vs. 4.1%). However, the gender pay gap is still alive and well with median weekly earnings for full-time female workers in 2021 still only amounting to 83.1% of men’s earnings.
That last data point is disappointing, but it also serves as motivation to continue to negotiate for ourselves. The current hot job market makes it the ideal moment to hunt for a new position, go for a promotion or raise or negotiate for other perks that would make a meaningful difference in your life, like the ability to work from home or a schedule that allows you to spend more time with your family. Now is the time to reboot and optimize the world around us by being an ally for ourselves and other women in the workforce.
Go at your own pace
If you’re among the millions of women that exited the workforce since the pandemic started and are considering dusting off your resume, approach your search with the mindset that it may take some time to land a new job. While I hope women are able to confidently advocate for themselves and pursue meaningful opportunities, that looks different for everyone. You shouldn’t feel pressured to make moves you’re not ready for.
Be patient and seek out a role that offers the benefits you value most and that compensates you fairly. Use the fresh start as a chance to reset and establish those non-negotiables for yourself and your potential employers.
Whether you’re headed to job interviews or asking for a raise or promotion, come prepared with quantifiable evidence of your accomplishments. And don’t be shy about touting your successes. (You are your best advocate!) You can gather information about the market rate for salary in your industry from a site like Glassdoor, professional associations and career-centered social media groups.
Have confidence in the value you provide and don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve. Practice negotiating in smaller ways — like lowering your cable bill — so you’ll feel prepared when it comes time to talk salary.
Finally, don’t forget about perks and benefits outside your paycheck — including a retirement plan, time off, a flexible schedule, wellness programs, parental leave, continuing education and college tuition reimbursement. Your time, health and happiness have value, even though they can’t necessarily be assigned a dollar amount.
Level up your money management
While women have no shortage of responsibilities at home, for many that to-do list does not include finances. In fact, according to an Ally survey, less than a quarter of women manage most of the finances in their household, and 20% report sharing responsibility. As we emerge from this shecession, taking on more financial management could serve as a key catalyst to boost your economic confidence and help you better reach your financial goals.
Maximizing your earning potential at work is a good starting point. Keep the positive momentum going by taking a fresh look at your overall financial situation. Don’t be afraid to make tweaks that may have felt inaccessible before. For example, if you can have greater flexibility at work and more equity at home, maybe you rethink your approach to childcare. You might decide to share more duties with your partner, hire assistance or spend more quality time with your family.
Investing (literally) in your future is another crucial piece of stepping up your financial game. It’s also an area where, according to a recent Ally survey, women still feel underqualified. Far fewer women reported investing knowledge than men — even when they had the same level of experience and were investing the same amount of money.
The good news is, investing is easier and more accessible than ever before. Whether you’re a true beginner or a day-trading expert, there are choices that can get you started. By boosting your stock (and bond) savviness and taking ownership of your investing strategy, you can empower yourself to make even more wealth-building moves.
The future of financial success is female
Women weathered a lot of setbacks because of the pandemic, but our new environment is also full of opportunities to achieve meaningful change. Now is the time to take full advantage of this cultural reset moment to identify and accomplish the financial goals that match the changed reality. By taking this opportunity to negotiate for ourselves and our futures, we can all rise together.
Lindsey Bell, Ally’s chief markets & money strategist, is an award-winning investment professional with a passion for personal finance and more than 17 years of Wall Street experience. Bell’s unique ability to connect the dots between data and real life and craft bite-sized money ideas that people can use and apply stems from her deep background as an analyst, researcher and portfolio manager at organizations including J.P. Morgan and Deutsche Bank. She is known for demonstrating why and how an understanding of all things money improves a person’s finances and overall well-being. An ongoing CNBC contributor, Bell empowers consumers and investors across all walks of life and frequently shares her insights with the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Kiplinger’s, Forbes and Business Insider. She also serves on the board of Better Investing, a non-profit focused on investment education.