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Parallel Mothers: Why Women Are Leaving the Workforce, and What We Can Do About It Parallel Mothers: Why Women Are Leaving the Workforce, and What We Can Do About It

ore than three decades have passed since sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term "second shift" in reference to the cleaning, food preparation, caregiving and other forms of unpaid household labor that often await working mothers at the end of a workday. Yet for the past two-plus years, "simultaneous shift" might be the more accurate descriptor, one which has had far-reaching implications for women's career development as well as their mental health.

Take the following two findings from the U.S. Census Bureau, for example:

  • With the onset of COVID-19, women between the ages of 25 and 44 became virtually three times as likely as men to leave the workforce due to childcare responsibilities.
  • These women have also reported higher levels of anxiety, with 32% of them experiencing significant stress and worry, compared to just 25% of men.

How this is playing out, at least on a macro level, has been fairly well documented.

For instance, with paid childcare and in-school supervision suddenly out of the picture, many working mothers felt they had no choice but to quit their jobs altogether. Indeed, women’s workforce participation plunged to the lowest rate on record since the 1980s at one point, with four times as many women as men leaving the workforce. Meanwhile, working women continued to report symptoms of burnout, exhaustion and fatigue with significantly greater frequency than male colleagues.

None of these trends are good, obviously, and we need to start asking how we can reverse them. Here's why Sarah Klopfer, Global Program Leader, Re-Ignite at Johnson & Johnson, believes returnships will be a key part of the answer.

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We know that, over the last two years, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted caregivers in the global workforce. Faced with competing responsibilities—the choice of whether to care for children, partners and elderly parents or prioritize personal and professional responsibilities—many have taken time away from work. But with Re-Ignite, we can empower those who wish to return to work after time away with opportunities that not only support them, but fuel their creativity and passion.

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How Re-Ignite Supports Return-to-Work Journeys

Sarah doesn't mince words about the value of Re-Ignite, our paid returnship program at Johnson & Johnson for professionals who are ready to return to their careers after two or more years away.

"With so many women, and especially working mothers, leaving the workforce, it's clear that return-to-work programs are more important than ever," she said.

And while Sarah recognizes that returning to work often comes with unique challenges, she pointed out that Re-Ignite is specifically designed to help participants overcome them.

"We want to make sure that everyone has the hands-on support they need to excel during their transition, not only in terms of the skills they're learning for their specific roles, but the broader kinds of professional development that will help them thrive in the future,” Sarah explained.

For example, the program is highly personalized—all participants are assigned "buddies," or Re-Ignite alums who have been through similar experiences, graduated from the program and completed their own back-to-work journeys, from the outset. On top of that, all participants get their own dedicated mentors, too.

What else?

Sarah continued: "We provide opportunities for networking. We invite leaders to speak with our participants and alumni about their area of the business and their career journeys. We also offer Re-Ignite Group Coaching sessions throughout the year."

In fact, those coaching sessions proved so popular that they've since been rolled out across Johnson & Johnson at large. Recent themes included "Purpose," "Resilience" and "Quieting Your Inner Critic."

“While these are topics that really any employee can learn from, I do think they're especially valuable for people who are returning to the workforce," Sarah observed.

She also envisions returnships at Johnson & Johnson as just one piece of a much larger picture.

"From recruiters to hiring managers, we want everyone involved in the hiring process to really appreciate the value that someone who took a career break brings to the table. This is something that I hear echoed back from returners all the time—'I came back to the workforce with improved communication skills.' 'I now have better time-management skills and stronger organizational skills.' 'I'm an overall better professional because of my experiences away from work.' We celebrate those experiences, and we're here to help returners tap into their potential."

In closing, Sarah also wanted to clarify one aspect of the program: "Re-Ignite is a gender-inclusive program. It certainly has very effectively served the needs of women who have taken a break from their careers for whatever reason in the past, but it will continue to serve the needs of all professionals seeking to return to the workforce."

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We're here to help returners tap into their potential.

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Re-Ignite Your Career Journey Right Now

There are many, many reasons why we've been named to Working Mother's 100 Best Companies list 35 years in a row, of which Re-Ignite is only one. But if you're ready to return to the workforce in a supportive environment, take on new challenges and be challenged to grow, you should take a moment to learn more about Re-Ignite—or start exploring all of the job openings available at Johnson & Johnson right now.

Plus, before you go, be sure to sign up for our global talent community, too. It's an easy way to stay in touch, learn more about life at Johnson & Johnson and even get updates about jobs that might interest you in the future.

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