The issues facing women in saving for retirement dominated discussions at Pensions & Investments' Defined Contribution Spring Virtual Series held March 8-11.
With the pandemic bringing those issues into sharp relief, talk centered on the "shecession," a reference to the COVID-19-triggered exodus of women from the workforce as they wrestled with the lack of child care options.
During a panel discussion on the first day of the conference, which coincided with International Women's Day, speakers lamented the departure of women from the workplace, which they said not only hurt women's retirement security but also damaged gender diversity efforts at the companies where they worked.
"If we felt the situation was bad for the most vulnerable female workers among us before the pandemic, it is really bad now and corrective steps need to be taken to right the ship," said Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, assistant dean in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
The speakers cited a report from the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan think tank, which estimated that women's total lost wages would amount to $64.5 billion a year if the levels of maternal labor force participation and work hours experienced during the April 2020 first-wave peak of infections were to persist long term.
"Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force in September alone, roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men," said moderator Nikki Pirrello, P&I's chief operating officer, citing the report.
The panelists discussed a variety of measures that plan sponsors can adopt to help prevent women from leaving the workforce or to help entice them to return, such as flexible work arrangements, paid fellowships and even sabbaticals.
Ms. Soto cited the example of a female vice president "high up in a well-known company" who left the workforce in the throes of the pandemic, a decision she said she felt she had to take "if she wanted to stay sane and be there for her family."
"The idea of the sabbatical is especially productive for these women," Ms. Soto said. "You don't want them to walk away like this VP did from this company."