Last year, with Covid-19 pandemic imposing many companies to reinvent themselves, mostly small/ medium size business not having the required resources/expertise to do that, made me think on whether there is a way of changing this scenario without additional funding.

Portugal has an amazing yet wasted talent pool that has been left aside: qualified women who chose to take some time off their careers to take care of their families, being these children, elderly and/or disabled. And who simply can´t find their way back into the workforce. 2021 data from INE shows that 90% of unemployed women are looking for a new job when compared to 83% in 2001. Last October, from the 52K people unemployed with at least a bachelor’s degree, 65% were women. Not encouraging numbers for women that were in 2020 58% of university graduates (PORDATA), circa 40% corporate middle managers and 20% top managers.

In a Fundação Manuel dos Santos´ study from February 2019 about Women in Portugal, women with children stated that they had 6 extra hours of work per day when compared to only 3,5 for women without children. Furthermore, 31% of women mentioned that they adapted their professional life to their personal life. Within this group, 84% reduced their working hours and/or rejected new challenges, while 16% took the drastic measure to leave their paid job. Notice that this study was brought out right before Covid-19 pandemic kicked in, which made the overall situation even more challenging as shown below.

But Portugal is not alone. Let´s see some international examples:

Two McKinsey studies from the end of 2020 demonstrate that in the USA, women represented 47% of entry career levels, 33% middle level positions and 21% in C level. Even though these numbers have improved from 2015, it indicates that a big portion of women either leave the workforce and/or don´t get promoted to higher levels. Moreover, managing both family and careers became a more difficult task as the Covid-19 pandemic increased pressure on women:

  • 23% of women with children under 10 years of age considered leaving the workforce compared to only 13% of men;
  • 18% of women with children of all ages stated they considered leaving the workforce while  only 10% of men thought so and;
  • Both women without children and men answered the same 10%.

So, if women drop their careers to dedicate themselves to their families, what happens when they decide to come back into the workforce? In many countries, such as UK, Germany, USA and Brazil, they take a step back from their last position, but are able to re-enter the job market. In Portugal, sadly, the situation is quite different.

Some of the executive searches and executives I´ve spoken with told me that they prefer to select candidates that are in the job market or have left no more than six months ago. Why? Because these candidates represent less risk (shorter time for the new hire to bring added value and proof that they were the right choice) to the hiring company.

Therefore, qualified women that left the workforce for 3, 4 or even more years aren´t even considered for a position if they don´t have a personal contact or referral that will give them a chance. This happens even if these women are more qualified for the role and are willing to take a step back to get back to work.

With a new generation stating that work-personal life balance is key for them to choose a company, this culture of not re-hiring women and/or men that decide to take some time for their families has to change, but how?

As a way to have our contribution to this dilemma, at Universidade Católica Portuguesa, we have a Program Back-to-Market (BtM) that tries to bring some hope to this pessimistic scenario. BtM is a free program for women with Management, Economics and Finances background that have left the job market in order to care for their families. In its 3rd edition, the program restore these women’s previous competencies, develop extra skills which will increase their confidence when attending job interviews and restart their careers (on corporate world or creating their own companies).

This is the beginning of these women´s journey back to the job market, so what´s still missing? CEOs, HR´s and other decision makers who believe that women that chose to care for others, haven´t wasted their talent, instead, they developed even further their emotional intelligence and other skills, such as multi-tasking.

The re-employment results of BtM´s participants are encouraging, but there is a long path to go.  We must change this culture urgently and send the message to all Portuguese women that continuing to work during their whole life is an option in their career, but it’s not the only one. If a woman decides to take care of her family, she can later go back to a paid job that uses her talent and competencies and progress in her career. The Portuguese economy will benefit from this, so will all of us.
Have a great and impactful week!

Karen Ferrez Frisch
UCP Back-to-Market Co-founder and Coordinator 

This Newsletter covers SDG 5, 8 and 10.

This article refers to edition #124 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter.
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