Is HR tech the key to fixing the women’s workforce crisis?

Harsh. Disastrous. Concerning.

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These are just a few of the ways Jeanne Achille describes the effects of the pandemic on women’s participation in the workforce. The unprecedented shifts have been the driving force behind the program for this year’s Women in HR Tech Summit, held on the first day of the upcoming HR Technology Conference & Exposition®.

Achille, chair of the event, says that, until early last year, there was cause for optimism around gains that women, especially in leadership positions, had been making in the workforce–and all of that changed when COVID-19 hit.

Women in HR Tech Summit Chair Jeanne Achille

“Women’s jobs were far more vulnerable–especially in service sectors–and, when forced to decide between career and family, the choice was obvious,” she says. “It was tough enough to begin with, and the pandemic created further inequality.”

Nearly half a million more women than men exited the workforce during the pandemic, and, earlier this year, one in four women were considering leaving their careers. Another recent study of women caregivers found that less than one-third intended to return to the workforce over the next year. And, all of these effects were disproportionately felt by women of color, Achille notes.

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Now, as the pandemic subsides and employers look to rebuild, the question becomes, can the damage wrought over the last year be reversed?

“Before COVID,” Achille says, “we were making progress, albeit slowly. Post-pandemic, we’re assessing the damage and realizing we’ve experienced major setbacks.”

If employers look to the true root causes of those setbacks, Achille says, they’ll likely see that the groundwork had been laid before the pandemic–with systemic issues like pay equity, inaccessible childcare and lack of support for mental health already at play. Those topics will be in the spotlight at Women in HR Tech: For instance, a session featuring speakers from ADP, CURO and Sapient Insights Group explores where traditional approaches to pay equity have gone wrong and how employers can pivot for the new reality.

See also: Why HR needs to stop the clock on the women’s recession

If employers do take decisive action today to strive for gender parity by 2030, according to researchers at McKinsey, it could add $13 trillion to the global GDP.

“The bottom line is, the global economy cannot afford to lose women’s strong participation in the workforce,” Achille says.

To that end, Women in HR Tech Summit sessions will also explore how employers need to reassess recruiting and retention, and technology’s role in that effort, Achille says. A session with Logical Designs Solutions, Sounding Board and Skillsoft looks at ways to improve the women leadership pipeline. Meanwhile, representatives from Oleeo, Northwell Health, PandoLogic and The Mom Project will discuss how talent acquisition needs to change going forward in light of events of the last year, including the need for a “women-centric” sourcing strategy and deployment of sophisticated AI tools to reduce bias.

While the opportunity for technology to play a part in rebuilding women’s participation in the workforce will be a focus of the event, the summit is also an opportunity, Achille says, for participants to learn from the personal stories of women who have overcome obstacles to innovate and lead.

Abby Wambach

For example, the opening session by Rebecca Henderson of Randstad will highlight the speaker’s experience as a young, single mother who paved her own path to the CEO position. The summit concludes with the conference’s opening keynote by Olympic soccer star Abby Wambach, who will share her own journey of becoming an advocate for equality.

“Our impressive roster of speakers will share insight into their own professional journeys, which is so inspiring for others,” Achille says. “Attendees will gain practical tips about how they can support women in the workplace–themselves, their colleagues and their job candidates–especially by building stronger leadership pipelines through gender diversity.”

Register here for the Women in HR Technology Summit and HR Tech Conference.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].