Women seem to be fleeing the workforce

Because of the scale of performative wokeness and generalizations we’ve assigned to Gen Z, we want to believe this is finally the moment for diversity and inclusion to rise up. This is a confusing topic for many, because there’s a lot of emotional intensity and labor going into diversity discussions at the personal level, but corporations seem to do exactly nothing but what they’ve always done. Why? Short answer: a company’s job is to make money, not necessarily endorse social justice initiatives. When we assign too many conditions to a company and its leadership, it becomes overwhelming and they just go back to focusing on the stuff they care about, which is often, well, money and growth.

But there’s a potentially bigger problem than human psychology right now: we already knew that the COVID recession was a “she-cession,” but there’s troubling additional data out of this Wharton article. About 2.3 million women have exited the U.S. labor force since the pandemic began, compared with about 1.8 million men, according to government data. As a result, female participation in the workforce has dropped to 57%, a level not seen since 1988.

Then later in the article, there’s this gem:

Bellace said she’s pleased with the cultural changes that she has seen over the years. Younger men no longer assume that every female co-worker is a secretary, and they are more willing to accept women as leaders and authority figures. Traits long associated with women, such as empathy and coalition building, are now lauded in men.

I want to believe that pull quote is true, but I know a lot of guys who still assume most women in offices are either (a) in HR, (b) in the secretarial pool, © in events marketing, or (d) there to be flirted with. Guys are pigs. Not all, but many.

“The Age of Diversity…”

… seems like it will be a bit harder to achieve in a workforce with millions less women. I mean, logically, no?

So what can be done?

The first place people always go on these discussions is “Well, we need better child care situations.” I agree, and that’s a massive first step, but … you need to look at the realities of life too. Child care has people over a barrel because, well, often they need to work and they need a place to put their kid that isn’t “school.” (Which is also child care, but saying that out loud can get you cancelled on Twitter.) People who run child care operations, and work within them, want to make money and provide for their lives too. If they can essentially over-charge, they will — because it’s often a completely necessary service. So there’s that.

The next tier is that child care is always framed up as “government intervention,” but the thing is, even though money is clearly fake these days, we can’t just keep printing money and giving it to people with children and/or child care providers. Money needs to mean something. Plus: the general idea of “government intervention” terrifies a lot of people, and they start thinking we’ll become Finland. So that’s another roadblock.

The next tier is unfortunately just how guys are. I got a friend who’s a lawyer, and his wife is a lawyer. She got a promotion to partner before him, and he wanted her to not take it until he got one. I imagine their sex life was fire after that particular move, right? But a lot of guys are like this, because they derive relevance, self-worth, and sense of efficacy from their professional achievements, since very few of us hunt boars on the open plain anymore. Instead, we’re ambulance-chasing lawyers, and that’s where we get our view of self from. We see women as partners (good!), but we also see them as baby-makers (less good) and homemakers (less good), and honestly, it’s not just men. A lot of moms and grandmothers perpetuate this shit too. “When are you gonna pop out that first kid, honey?”

The fourth (?) tier is that a lot of people don’t want to work, because work kinda sucks, and priorities are changed in an instant, but it’s easier and societally-acceptable for women to opt out of work on the child-rearing side. We’re seeing it more with men these days, but that gap isn’t fully bridged.

Then there’s another sheer fiscal tier. I was at some couples thing a few weeks ago and some dude, nice in general but a bit bro-y and sales-y, says something like “Well, I crunched the numbers, and (name of wife) shouldn’t work anymore, because her salary is doing nothing for us compared to cost of child care!” Again, I would think that comment would tank your sex life — “your salary does nothing for us, girl, go be covered in vomit most of Wednesday morning” — but at some point I guess I don’t know what people do behind closed doors (and I probably shouldn’t speculate).

So as long as we have certain held assumptions about women and work and children and cost structures and male relevance, I don’t know if we can “solve” these issues. I also think there’s not a “one size fits all” solve at the policy level; every family will deal with this in their own way. Some will kick the woman into child-rearing, and some will have two salaries, and some relationships may not even involve a woman. Life is a beautiful tapestry.

But it’s a little bit much to say we’re entering into some woke-as-fuck new Era of Diversity when it feels like the opposite might be happening: we might have more awareness around issues on color/race, but women seem to be jumping off the workforce ship in droves.


Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/work-with-me/

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