We can all agree that women matter in the workplace. Organizations with gender diversity on their executive teams are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability and companies with women on their boards of directors are more productive.
And yet, millions of women have left the workforce since the pandemic began.
It’s not a surprise (unfortunately) why women have been driven out of the workforce during the pandemic. COVID forced many women to shift their priorities to take care of children or older relatives (something I can relate to). Many moms also assumed the role of teaching assistant, helping children with e-learning while schools were closed—something that has continued during the surge of the omicron variant.
These added stressors could explain why many women are also burned out–42% of women said they felt burned out this year. This has pushed many women to leave their jobs and reevaluate what they want out of their careers.
The good news for employers? Nearly two out of three women who left the workforce due to COVID-19 plan to return. But to welcome women back to the workforce, organizations need to set them up for success with training programs that fine-tune their skills so they hit the ground running when they re-enter the workforce.
For organizations, micro-credentials can be the key to bringing women back into the workplace. And as a woman who has used these short-term learning programs to further my own career, I couldn’t agree more.
What does a return to work ideally look like? Seventy-eight percent of women say they want more flexibility and 73% also want career progression opportunities from their current or future employer. The majority also want access to upskilling opportunities, and 56% of women say they’ve thought about a career change during the pandemic.
Ultimately, women aren’t just going to jump at the first job they see. It’s up to companies to empower them with the right work environment as well the tools and support needed to succeed in their return to the workplace.
4 essentials of micro-credential programs geared toward women
With women looking for more flexibility, career advancement, upskilling, and potentially new career paths, organizations can create connections with women by providing educational opportunities in the form of micro-credential programs.
Micro-credentials are highly focused, short-term learning courses that take only weeks or days to complete. They enable both current and prospective workers to gain a skill or certification in a fraction of the time it takes for a typical degree-granting program.
Micro-credentials made a substantial impact on my own career. I took a certification prep course at the Northwestern School of Professional Studies in partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to transition my career from marketing to HR. I also take courses with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to continually develop my skills as an HR leader, and I became a Meta Certified Digital Marketing Associate during the pandemic to boost my digital marketing skills for hiring at my company. Each micro-credential opened doors for me and helped improve my skills while allowing me to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
I never want to stop learning—and it’s clear that many women looking to return to the workforce don’t either. By harnessing the benefits that micro-credentials provide, you can offer women the return to work they’re looking for. Here are a few essential attributes of successful micro-credential programs to include in your organization’s learning and talent development roadmap:
Flexibility: Given the responsibilities women typically juggle, you don’t want to offer a program with a rigid structure. Provide micro-credentials that can be completed online at the user’s convenience. If you require in-person learning, provide flexible attendance options, including weekend classes. My program at Northwestern allowed me to attend Saturday classes, enabling me to work my job Monday through Friday without disruption.
No time limit for completion: Offer micro-credentials that can be completed at the user’s own pace. Program sessions should be short and digestible with engaging materials like digital flashcards, videos, and quizzes. Removing time constraints also helps women pause learning if other priorities arise—something all too common during the pandemic—and lets them pick up where they left off.
Hard and soft skill programming: With the many skills gaps that exist within organizations, most programs are geared toward hard skills, especially in tech. But while these are important, don’t neglect soft skills programming. Many women seeking management-level positions will want soft skills programming, like communication and team engagement, to boost their leadership skills.
Third-party validation: Consider partnering with an educational or expert institution to provide a micro-credential program. Many of these organizations already offer similar programs or have the infrastructure in place to build a program around your business needs. The backing of a reputable third party also makes your micro-credential programming more attractive to prospective employees.
Women are ready to come back to work, but they don’t want to return to the workplace they left. So, give them a workplace worth returning to—provide women the opportunity to learn new skills, advance their careers, and maybe even start a new career with micro-credential programs.
Heather Shulick is the EVP of HR at AllCampus.