The big quit is hitting Colorado women hard, making them much more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic

Karen Crumback felt exhausted after 20 years of working in nonprofit organizations and quit her job. Michelle Koenig quit her 19-year-old job and unexpectedly found a new position. Megan Schmer left the health care field and now runs her own business.

The trio share an experience with millions of other women across the country: They quit their jobs or changed careers during the coronavirus pandemic out of frustration or a desire for change. Others lost their jobs or couldn’t find daycare when schools closed.

With companies unable to fill all of their job openings, Colorado business leaders have collaborated on a set of recommendations aimed at bringing women back into the workforce and addressing the inequalities and barriers that have driven many women to leave in the first place.

“The pandemic has shone a light on the challenges that women face from a professional perspective,” said Kate Bailey, CEO of TARRA. “OK, so we have all this data, but what is the solution?”

the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce and TARE, a Denver-based flexible office and member workspace, has partnered with researchers at Metropolitan State University of Denver to explore solutions. The result is the paper “The Great Reset: Women in the 2022 Workforce.”

Questions explored by the paper include: women were 24% more likely to permanently lose their jobs due to the pandemic; women reduced their working hours or left the labor force three to four times more than men; and the median annual earnings of full-time working mothers are 29% lower than those of working fathers.

“We’re taking this issue and saying as an organization, as a community that’s focused on advancing women in business, how can we help recreate a business architecture where women can thrive, where women can succeed and women can thrive,” said Simone Ross, President and CEO of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

Research has shown that about half of women of color are considering quitting their jobs, added Ross, the Chamber of Commerce’s first black executive. The report encourages companies to provide the kind of mentorship, sponsorship and networking opportunities that Ross said she should seek out on her own.

People quitting their jobs voluntarily during the pandemic have been called the “big quit”. The national quit rate, not including retirements, hit a record high of 2.9% in August 2021. At one point, Colorado was ninth in the nation with a rate of 3.4%, or 94,000 people.

In January, the national rate of Americans voluntarily quitting their jobs was 2.8%, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. It was 3.4% in Colorado, which was tied with Arizona for 10th.

According to a recent analysis of Enthusiasm, which processes payroll and company benefits. In January, the gender gap widened, with 4.1% of women quitting their jobs, compared to 3.4% of men, Gusto said.

The differences play out against a backdrop of improving economy. The United States added 431,000 jobs in March, which helped reduce the overall unemployment rate to 3.6%, the lowest rate since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Rather than the Great Resignation, the National Public Radio The Planet Monday program said a better term for “quitting” might be the “great renegotiation,” because many people quit for better-paying jobs. Another suggestion is the “Great Overhaul”.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Lauren Jacobs, left, and Marlene Price, right, chat before a meeting with the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce in Denver on April 13, 2022.

No nocturnal phenomenon

Another name for the economic woes caused by the pandemic is “cession”, as women have been disproportionately affected.

Analysts say the fallout has been worse for women of color. According to a study compiled in the article “The Great Reset”, white women earn 78.4% of what white men earn; Black women earn 61.4% and Hispanic women 56%.

Chamber of Commerce, TARRA and MSU Denver researchers Lynann “Annie” Butler and Cate Hill held a series of discussions between May and October 2021 with business leaders, government officials, small business owners and employees. The discussions resulted in approximately 90 recommendations, covering areas such as child care, finances, wages and benefits, health care, job training, mentoring and general workplace practices.

“The 2021 She-Cession wasn’t just the result of the pandemic. It’s the result of decades of lagging solutions to the biggest challenges facing women in the workplace – no child care. universal children, continued wage inequality, lack of investment and financial resources, and unequal opportunities for advancement,” Bailey said.

A 2018 report from S&P Global found that the prime-age female labor force participation rate in the United States was 20th among the 22 advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to the report, more women in the workforce would help increase US gross domestic product by 5-10% in just a few decades.

For Schmer, a young mother who was starting a business, the lack of childcare was difficult. The Denver woman quit her job as an ER and ICU registered nurse before the pandemic hit. After having her first son, she decided the workload and travel was too much.

“We were lucky because my husband had a job where we could make it work until I figured out what I wanted to do next,” Schmer said.

She started a business, Olive and Olde’s, which produces handmade floor and meditation cushions, neck warmers and other items. One son was in daycare and the other was in preschool when the pandemic hit.

“They shut everything down and we didn’t have daycare anymore,” Schmer said. “It took me about eight months to restructure the business so we could have something to sell.”

Grandparents helped, and Schmer’s husband worked from home. Schmer said that for her and other working parents, the lack of adequate childcare is a serious barrier. She said Congress’ failure to follow through on the Biden administration’s proposal to make child care more accessible and affordable “looks like a betrayal.”

Company-paid or subsidized daycare programs, flexible work hours for parents, and state-subsidized programs and tax policies are some of the ways to help, suggests “The Great Reset.”

“Women have seen an outflow of labor at a much higher rate than men during the pandemic, simply because they are the primary caretakers in most homes,” said Katie Birkelo, vice-president. senior president of Randstad USA, a recruiting agency.

Women say it takes them about 40% longer than in the past to return to the workforce or land a new job, compared to 27% longer for men, Birkelo said. At the same time, there are 1.7 job vacancies for every unemployed person.

“It tells me that companies need to do something different to attract women to the workforce, or else those jobs will go unfilled,” Birkelo said.

Colorado-based FirstBank hasn’t seen a higher rate of resignations from women, but it is seeing fewer applications from female candidates, said Shannon Jones, president of human resources. Women represent 63% of the company’s total workforce and 72% of supervisors and managers at branch level.

Jones said FirstBank strives to ensure that at least half of new management trainees are women and tracks quarterly progress on its diversity and inclusion initiatives. The bank is revamping its website and job postings. Jones said the company is determining if there is “some kind of unconscious bias that might be pushing candidates away.”

Back to school not always easy

After taking time off from her full-time job, Karen Crumback said she was ready for a new job. She has worked in nonprofit organizations for about 20 years, serving as a development director and executive director. She quit her job in November 2020 to “take a step back and reevaluate” what she wanted to do.

“It was great having some time off and doing gigs part-time, but I’m definitely 100% in job hunting mode now,” said Crumback, who lives in Englewood.

However, Crumback said many jobs available are low paying for someone with his experience. She also thinks her age is a factor. During an interview last year with a foundation, someone asked him a question that “was so ostensibly related to age”.

“He might as well have asked me how old I was, to be honest with you,” Crumback said.

But Crumback said she has no regrets about leaving her previous job. The pandemic has prompted people, including her, to rethink their priorities. “I want to make sure what I’m doing is a healthy place for me.”

Chelle Johnson has heard similar stories from people who have been laid off or quit during the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic. Johnson started a consulting business after working for several years in human resources for companies. A dating group she started in March 2021, Colorado Quarry Connectors, is a forum for job seekers, employers and people looking to improve their skills.

“The return has been slower (for women) because they have more options. There are lots of jobs there, more opportunities,” Johnson said. “Maybe they don’t want to work in restaurants or hotels or markets that aren’t stable.”

Johnson thinks companies are trying to address the issues that have driven women out of the workplace. “I think women take longer to get back to work because they ask for different things.”

Michelle Koenig is “sort of the poster child” for people who have taken advantage of the pandemic to take stock of their situation. She thought she was making a change before the pandemic.

“Just the process of how everything went with this led me to come to a conclusion that I probably wouldn’t have reached that quickly,” the Denver-area woman said.

In January 2021, Koenig quit the job where she had worked in administration and operations for 19 years to take a few months off. An opportunity presented itself unexpectedly for a similar role in another type of organization and she accepted the position.

At 56, Koenig said it was important to think about how she would get through what could be the final stage of her full-time career. “At this point in my life, that’s probably something that makes more of a difference to me than at other times.”

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