Gender equality has been set back an additional 36 years due to the disparate impact of the pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum. This means at the current rate of progress we won’t see true equality for another 136 years. While men in the workplace have already regained the jobs they lost, women are still struggling to recover. According to the National Women’s Law Center, it will take women nine years just to regain the jobs they lost during the pandemic, at which point they will still be trailing their male counterparts.
In light of these concerning projections and related conversations happening within our communities, Fairygodboss teamed up with Dress for Success® to learn how the pandemic impacted women’s confidence in the workplace and how women are currently feeling about their jobs and career prospects. Based on the responses of 800 women working full-time, part-time and who are unemployed, we found that women’s confidence at work has suffered due to career and financial setbacks and doubts in their career prospects.
Yet, a considerable number of women feel surprisingly confident about the future of their careers, in large part because the pandemic allowed them to focus more time and effort on what is important to them, like family and work-life balance. They also feel confident in their relevant skills and flexible workplaces.
Read the full findings below to learn more.
Nearly half (48%) of women say they don’t feel very confident at work right now, citing career and financial setbacks, but four in five respondents say they’re optimistic in their career outlook for the next year. Scientific studies have shown that women are more resilient than men and will outlive men in times of crisis which may explain why the majority of respondents, while not currently confident in their careers, are optimistic about their career prospects.
More specifically, almost half of women (46%) say they’re confident in their skills and abilities at work, but over 75% are not confident in their work relationships, and lack supportive environments and professional networks.
Over 75% of women are not confident in their work relationships, and lack supportive environments, growth and development opportunities, and professional networks.
But what’s concerning women most about their work right now? Most women say they lack growth and development opportunities, which plays a major role in this confidence gap. While these opportunities can sometimes come from employers (and see later on in this report for how employers can better offer these opportunities to employees), more often they come from within a person’s network, which our research shows women are severely lacking.
The Great Resignation is an illuminating pandemic phenomenon as employees redefine what professional success looks like for them and pursue job opportunities that better align with their aspirations and core values. With more than half (52%) of respondents indicating they spent more time with their families during the pandemic while also experiencing financial and career setbacks (44%), it’s no surprise that their definition of success echoes broader workforce sentiments and trends.
Feeling fulfilled in the work that they do, maintaining healthy boundaries and financial freedom are critical to women’s perceptions of professional success.
Our research reveals that women cite feeling fulfilled in the work that they do (60%), maintaining healthy, productive boundaries between their work and personal lives (51%), and salaries that contribute to their financial freedom (44%) as drivers of their professional success. Other key factors include being able to prioritize their health and well-being (41%) as well as achieving growth and promotions (36%).
For women of color (WOC), fair and equal access to opportunity is also top of mind. Thirty-six percent of WOC respondents indicate they have had to work longer and harder to achieve their career goals during the pandemic compared to their white counterparts (27%), highlighting ongoing disparities in the employee experience as reported in other research studies throughout the past 20 months.
Our research found that women want to gain more relevant skills and access new growth and development opportunities to gain confidence in their careers. However, there is a disconnect between wanting to gain these skills and opportunities and having the means to do it. While hard skills can be taught in an online course or workshop, many development opportunities come from an individual’s professional network.
89% of women are not confident in their networks.
Data from LinkedIn found that women are less likely than men to have strong networks – termed “the network gap” – and our survey found that 89% of women are not confident in their networks. Yet networking remains a blind spot for women as a way to improve their careers and financial well-being. Growing their professional network only ranked fifth in a list of things that women said would help them gain confidence in their career outlooks. By ignoring this key component, women are not only missing out on job opportunities that they are highly qualified for, but they may be missing out on other opportunities like mentorship, volunteering or board positions that will help elevate them in their careers.
One positive that has come out of the pandemic is a flexible work environment. This kind of environment was more widely introduced during the pandemic and is now here to stay. Over half of respondents said they’ve had the option to work from home and nearly all of them used that option. Women who had the opportunity to work remotely were 1.3x more likely to report being confident in their careers than those who were unable to work remotely. Among those who didn’t have the option to work from home, over a third said their self-confidence decreased since the start of the pandemic.
Women who had the opportunity to work remotely were 1.3x more likely to report being confident in their careers than those who were unable to work remotely.
When women are positioned to thrive, everyone benefits. Therefore, it is critical that employers curate environments that attract and retain women in their workplaces, and the baseline solutions are simple:
The past 20 months put a spotlight on the power of community and one of the greatest areas of opportunities to harness this power is in the workplace. By showcasing the importance of building and strengthening professional networks — while also breaking down the barriers to these networks — employers can help enhance women’s pathways to growth and development opportunities. Organize networking events and encourage senior leaders in your organization to attend. Involve company ERGs in planning these events and offer a variety to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get involved.
The world of work is constantly challenged and evolving across all industries. Employers must ensure they are providing women with innovative training, resources and tools that enable them to achieve their career goals amid rapid workforce transformation.
Progress only happens when we hold ourselves accountable to seeing the work get done. If you’re a business leader, set measurable and tangible goals to improve your workplace for women employees. You should be intentional when brainstorming solutions and by creating goals, you can help keep everyone on track in achieving them.
We surveyed 800 women working full-time, part-time and who are unemployed in the United States.
Fairygodboss is the largest career community for women. We help women achieve their career goals by providing community advice, connections, jobs, events, and exclusive company intel from other women.
Fairygodboss works with more than 200 major US companies to help them attract top talent and enhance their employer brand among women. By partnering with us, employers can increase the number of qualified applicants to their open positions, engage their current workforce and leverage their endorsements, and share their story about why they are a great place for women to work.
Dress for Success is a global nonprofit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. Since starting operations in 1997, Dress for Success has empowered more than 1.2 million women across more than 140 cities in 23 countries. Visit www.dressforsuccess.org to learn more.