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Women lost a disproportionate number of jobs due to the events of 2020. Here are ten tips for how to attract female employees to your workplace – and retain them!

For decades, companies such as IBM, Genentech, and Salesforce have been held up as models for attracting, retaining, and developing female talent – and promoting gender equity in the workplace. 


That’s a simple question with many answers. Why are special initiatives required? Because attracting and retaining female workers doesn’t happen naturally in a male-dominated workplace. Why make the extra effort to include women? Because having women in the workforce is good business. Why are companies still trying to figure out how to attract female employees? How to retain female employees? Because there are still fewer women than men in the workforce and there is wage disparity that (still) favors men.

For a moment, just before the emergence of COVID-19, there were signs of progress. In January 2020, news outlets reported that women outnumbered men in the U.S. workforce for only the second time in history. Then, the pandemic turned so many businesses upside down. And very quickly, women were disproportionately and negatively affected by the events of 2020.

  • Women – especially women of color – were more likely than men to be laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis –  in part because the industries that employ more women (hospitality, food service) were disproportionately hit by the pandemic [Bloomberg]

What does this mean for your organization? It likely means that you’ve lost some women from your workforce – along with the skills, talents, and experience they brought to their jobs. It may mean that some of your female employees are considering leaving their jobs, as they continue to juggle their work and home responsibilities. And it means there’s an opportunity for your leaders, for your organization, to tap into the skills and competencies of the many women who are interested in working now – if you are successful in showing those women that they are welcome at your place of work.

Looking for employees with the skills and competencies your organization needs to thrive? Here are ten tips for how to attract female employees to your workplace – and retain them!

1. Take a Stand

An absence of communication leaves others to create their own versions of the truth. This is especially true for corporate communications, where employees, customers, partners, and potential employees care about what a company stands for. 

If attracting and retaining female employees and leaders is important to your business, make a point to say that out loud. In meetings. In strategy documents. In annual reports. On your website

In employee-facing policies, spell out exactly what you expect. You can state, “Our Company commits to hiring and retaining women.” Follow that up with examples of valued behaviors, such as:

  • “I seek opportunities to include women on my team.” 
  • “I support the development of female employees to help ensure that they are building the skills they need to succeed.”
  • “I listen to female employees and strive to align goals and remove roadblocks related to their career progression.

2. Model and Develop the Behaviors You Expect

Back up what you say with your actions. Set a goal for how many female employees, how many women leaders, you want – then go after it. Share your metrics and your progress. 

Work with your leaders, managers, and recruiters to identify the skills and competencies they need to succeed at attracting and retaining female workers. Conduct skills assessments to understand who is doing the right things well – and who needs to develop the behaviors you expect to see. Reward and celebrate successes.

3. Actively Recruit Females

When thinking about how to recruit female employees, map out the full recruitment cycle. Where are women looking for work? Promote your jobs there. What do you want prospective employees to see and experience as they are applying for work and moving through the interview process? Build out those web pages, email templates, and protocols so your team is inviting women to join the company from the very first touchpoint.

Be sure you’re using a competency-based recruitment process, so the decisions of recruiters and hiring managers are based on who is best for the position, rather than bias-laden opinions and preferences. 

4. Introduce “Returnships”

As we saw in 2020, it’s often the women who step out of the workforce to handle caregiving and other family obligations. So, it’s the women who may have gaps in their work histories. Still, many of those women have rich work experiences and relevant skills. They may just need some “tuning up” to be able to contribute at the level you need. 

Rather than turn away those applicants, offer returnships focused on shoring up the skills they (and you) need for those women to succeed. 

5. Extend Flexible Work Hours

Many companies introduced flexible work hours in 2020, recognizing that employees were juggling unprecedented work and home commitments – especially virtual schooling during traditional work hours. A number of government contractors allowed employee access to servers during off-hours. A swath of other companies – large and small – adjusted their workflow to support employees in completing their work early in the mornings, late at night, or in pockets of availability during the day.

The result turned out to be a win-win. Employees (especially women) could keep up their productivity – and their jobs. Employers benefitted from having employees who knew their jobs, delivered expected results, and were more loyal as a result.

6. Maintain Remote Work Options

As we open back up after COVID-19, many employees are eager to return to the workplace and enjoy the in-person camaraderie of colleagues. Others are not.

Employers who can give employees a choice are best positioned to retain their employees – especially the female employees. Importantly, flexible work options work best when they are offered to both men and women. The equity removes some of the stigma associated with flexibility. It opens up the possibility that more men will opt for flexible work options, enabling more women to stay on their career trajectory. 

7. Build a Robust DEI Program

As we’ve seen, women of color are even more likely to be negatively impacted by the events of 2020 than their white counterparts. Active efforts to engage women at work is one step toward attracting and retaining a female workforce. But it doesn’t go far enough. 

After 2020, there’s been a tremendous uptick in companies hiring Diversity Officers and building diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. By embracing the overlap of DEI programs and initiatives on how to attract female employees, we will effectively reach, attract, and retain women of color. 

8. Initiate Stay Conversations

We’ve previously touched on the Stay Conversation in the Avilar Blog. According to the McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace 2020 report, “more than one in four women are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable just six months ago: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely.”

That seems like a pretty good reason to reach out to your female employees to talk. To listen. To discover whether you’re on track to support them in staying with your organization. And learn what else you could be doing now – before they decide to leave. 

9. Prioritize Wellbeing

As this Forbes article reminds us, “All parents have charted stressful situations due to the pandemic. However, women have been shown to disproportionately carry that load. It’s time companies take the whole person into account vs. assuming their personal obligations are not their problem.”

Wellbeing is now solidly an HR and business issue. Demographic and cultural shifts have helped to drive wellbeing into the realm of a workplace priority. Businesses have found that helping employees live better has a direct and positive result on the business. To support employees, especially working mothers, be sure your HR leaders and managers are skilled at promoting employee wellbeing – within and beyond the workplace. 

10. Commit to Career Paths and Promotions for Women

When it comes down to figuring out how to retain female employees, much of the answer lies in valuing them and their work. 

Be sure your company has solid career paths available to women, where they have (at least) equal chances for progression and promotion as their male colleagues. 

Are you considering the best ways on how to attract female employees and retain them? Be sure your leadership, HR professionals, and managers are building the competencies they need to support your effort. Our Competency Management Toolkit can help to outline how to align skills and competencies with this workforce goal. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can support your effort. 


The Undeniable Benefits of Competency-Based Recruitment
What Will the COVID-19 Vaccine Do to Employee Retention?
The Stay Conversation: It’s How to Retain Top Talent
Women in the Workplace 2020 [McKinsey & Company]