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  • Katica Roy

How Can Private Sector Leaders Incentivize Women Back To Work?

Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)

If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.

The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.

  • Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.

  • Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.

Be Brave™


To Get Women Back Into The Workforce, Change Systems


I’m sure by now you saw the September jobs report about the 309,000 women who left the labor force and the 26,000 net women who lost jobs last month. This is obviously bad for many reasons. So my question is, how can we (business) incentivize women to get back to work?


The September jobs report tells us what. It doesn’t tell us why. If our goal is to get women back into the workforce (and it should be, more on that below), we need to know why they left the workforce in the first place.

Here’s what we know based on data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on October 8.


  • Black women: 7.3%

  • Latinas: 5.6%

  • White women: 3.7%

  • White men: 4.2%

Labor force participation

  • Black women: 61.2%

  • Latinas: 57.7%

  • White women: 56.1%

  • White men: 70.1%

That’s the summary of the September jobs report from the intersectional gender perspective. It tells us what the economy looks like. It doesn’t tell us why it looks the way it does. Yet, we need to know the “why” if we want to get women back to work.

Why isn’t work working for women? Why did many women decide it was better to invest their scarce time outside the paid labor force instead of in it? Absent additional data and analysis, we can only speculate on the “why.”

Some headlines point to the Delta variant and childcare closures as to why women tapped out of the workforce last month. (Example: “Working women face new setback as virus upends school plans.”) If this headline is true, then the linear solution would be to double down on extinguishing the virus while expanding access to affordable and reliable childcare.

We can’t spot-fix a systemic problem.

However, like most things in life, this issue is complicated and can’t be solved with a linear equation. We can’t spot-fix a systemic problem. Instead, we need to consult data from multiple sources to form insights. Rarely does a single source tell the entire story by itself.

Fact: Our Workplaces Don’t Value Employees Equitably

Since you asked how the business community can close the gender gap in labor force participation, let’s turn to what we do know AND what’s in our control as business leaders to fix.

→ We know that men receive promotions at a 21% greater rate than women. (And the promotion gap doubles for Black women.)

→ We know that Black job seekers who negotiate their pay receive lower starting salaries than White job seekers who do the same.

→ We know that nearly 40% of US employees are silenced by binding arbitration clauses in their employee agreements.

→ We know that 26% of men with children compared to 13% of women with children received pay raises while working remotely during the pandemic.

Key point: We know that our workplaces don’t treat all genders, races, and ethnicities equitably. And that’s something you as a private sector leader can change.

How Businesses Can “Incentivize” Women Back To Work

So to answer your question about how to “incentivize” women back to work, you can start by patching inequity holes in the employee lifecycle. You may not have the political capital to expand childcare or weaken the virus. However, as a business leader, you have the power, privilege, and responsibility to create a more equitable workplace for all:

  • Workplaces where mothers have equitable access to opportunities—by default.

  • Workplaces where women of color receive equitable pay—by default.

  • Workplaces where all employees know they are valued equitably; that their contributions matter—by default.

Not only is this in your realm of control, it’s also in you and your company’s best interest. Women are almost half of the talent base and the most educated cohort in the workforce. For every 10% increase in intersectional gender equity toward parity, your company reaps a 1 to 2% increase in revenue.

Final point: To get women back to work, business leaders need to create workplaces that women actually want to go back to.


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© 2021 Katica Roy™, Inc.


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