Dear Working Women: Before You Go, Negotiate

How not to lose a key part of the marketing workforce

woman on typewriter
Think about what you need, then prepare for the ask. Getty Images

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to upend the American workplace, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is taking a particular toll on women. 

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that of the 1.1 million people who left the workforce in September, 80% were women. That’s 865,000 women who will no longer be contributing to our economy (or bringing additional funds into their families). And research shows this is just the beginning.

Women are shouldering a disproportionate share of increased housework and childcare responsibilities during the pandemic— approximately 30 extra hours a week, reportedly. We’re now seeing the results of that, as more women begin dropping out of the workforce.

This trend could hit the marketing and advertising industry particularly hard. Not just because women make up two-thirds of the industry, according to a 2019 ANA study, but also because the ad business has been criticized for not being family-friendly.

Unfortunately, this bloodbath is only going get worse. A recent McKinsey/LeanIn.org report found that one-in-four women in corporate America is considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. That could remove another 2 million women from the workforce, erasing six years’ worth of gains.

While this pandemic will eventually come to an end, the damage it is doing to women in the workplace could last for decades.

How can we stem the losses? Temporary accommodations will help more women stay in the workforce through the pandemic, and in the decades that follow. But not enough companies are offering those. So women have to ask.

If you are thinking about quitting, my message to you is this: Before you go, negotiate. 

Thinking about what you would need to continue supporting your company during this time. Some ideas include:

  • A temporary stipend to help cover the cost of additional childcare
  • A modified schedule to help manage childcare demands
  • A temporary stipend for an office rental so you can get work done outside of your home
  • A relocation bonus if moving somewhere else (for example, closer to family who can help with childcare)
  • An administrative assistant or additional team member to delegate lower impact work to, enabling you to focus on key projects

I’m hearing from human resources professionals that very few women are negotiating before heading out the door. This shouldn’t surprise us. Research done by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows fewer women negotiate than men, and when they do, they have less confidence. This difference is commonly seen as a contributor to the gender pay gap, but during this pandemic we are seeing it contribute to a gender work gap.

Once you figure out what you want to ask for, prepare your ask. Find facts where you can: other companies that are doing this, the additional value it will drive for your company, etc. Then, when asking, put your request in terms of how it benefits the company. For example, the cost of replacing an employee is typically between 125% and 200% of the employee’s salary, so companies would much rather retain great employees than have to identify, recruit and train new ones.

While this pandemic will eventually come to an end, the damage it is doing to women in the workplace could last for decades. To avoid this, companies must offer their workforce more temporary support, and women must feel empowered to ask for what they need.


Kathryn Valentine is founder of Worthmore.
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