This Is the Biggest Barrier Holding Women Back in the Workplace

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Women’s labor force participation rate hit a 33-year low in January, according to an analysis conducted by the National Women’s Law Center. And when women leave the working world — either by choice or out of necessity — it can negatively impact them when they return. Long periods of unemployment “can really impact wages when an individual does find a [full-time] job again,” Emily Martin, VP for education and workplace justice at NWLC, told CNBC.

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It could also preclude them from rising up in the ranks in their career. As of 2020, only 29% of senior management roles were held by women, Catalyst reported, and as of 2021, only 8.1% of Fortune 500 CEOs were female — which actually marked a record high.

So why is it that women are being held back from achieving parity in the workplace? According to a recent survey conducted by LiveCareer, there is one major employment barrier for women: lack of child care.

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Women and Caregiving: The Stats

According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress, mothers who couldn’t access a child care program were significantly less likely to be employed, but for fathers, the impact on employment was negligible. The mothers who were surveyed also said that better access to child care would help boost their pay by being able to find a better job, apply for a promotion and work more hours.

As it stands, women are often responsible to take on the burden of caregiving responsibilities. Worldwide, women perform more than 75% of all unpaid care work, LiveCareer reported. This includes the care of both children and adults. The LiveCareer survey found that 48% of female respondents had children ages 16 and younger, with 33% of them saying they were single parents. In addition, 28% of the respondents said they were caregivers for adults.

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Women Need Access to Affordable Child Care

When asked how important having access to affordable child care was in enabling them to be employed, 81% of the women with children surveyed by LiveCareer said it was important. Of those who rated having this access as important, 80% said having access to more affordable child care would benefit their own well-being, 78% said it would allow them to pursue more job opportunities, 71% said it would allow them to earn more money and 70% said it would allow them to undertake additional training or education.

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Women Also Need Access to Affordable Adult Care

Many women are also the primary caregiver for an elder person or person with a disability. LiveCareer asked these women how important having access to care for an elder or person with a disability was in enabling them to be employed, and 85% said it was important. Of those who rated having this access as important, 87% said having access to more affordable care would benefit their own well-being, 79% said it would allow them to pursue more job opportunities, 72% said it would allow them to earn more money and 78% said it would allow them to undertake additional training or education.

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What Employers Can Do To Help

Implementing affordable care options may require some government intervention, but employers can also take steps to ease the care burden placed on their female employees and better help them to thrive in the workplace.

One thing employers can do is allow for more flexibility. The LiveCareer survey found that 88% of women said that it’s important or very important to have flexible hours, 80% said it’s important or very important to have a robust paid time off policy and 75% said that it’s important or very important to be able to work remotely.

“If offices want to retain their female employees, they’re going to need to find ways to alleviate the stress and guilt that moms are feeling when they leave for work in the morning only to return after dark,” said Rachel Neill, CEO and co-founder of Carex Consulting Group. “By offering a flexible work schedule and remote working possibilities, we won’t lose nearly as many women in the workforce — which is crucial if we want to keep gender diversity at the forefront.”

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Some advocates also believe employers should assist their employees with the cost of child and elder care.

“Organizations can help defray the enormous costs associated with child care since they directly benefit from it,” said Leslie Forde, CEO and founder of Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs LLC. “Care is part of the human condition, yet it’s often neglected as a facet of people’s lives at work. Child care costs more than mortgages in most cities, and eldercare is another significant need that often affects moms.”

Liz O’Donnell, founder of Working Daughter, said that the benefits given to working parents also need to be extended to working caregivers.

“We need to examine workplace benefits, policies and cultures, and make sure that whatever we offer workers who are parents, we also offer workers [who are caring for] parents,” she said. This means that if a company offers affordable and backup child care, it should also offer affordable and backup adult day care, and if it offers paid parental leave, it should also offer paid family leave.

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Last updated: Aug. 24, 2021

About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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