According to the National Women’s Law Center, 27 times more men than women joined the labor force last month. As we enter year three of the pandemic, employee discontent prevails among women and working moms. Throughout the course of the pandemic and women’s rights movement, have we not yet learned how to keep female workers, rather than drive them out of the workforce?

The plight of working mothers – and fathers – is easy for society to understand. Moms are the primary decision-makers for healthcare, education, and household purchases. Parents balance the needs of children while managing the health needs of aging parents. Navigating COVID rules in doctors’ offices, extracurricular activities, and schools has increased the strain.

It’s finally time to solve the underlying causes of our dissatisfaction—the desire for personal flexibility and continued patterns of mistreatment by those at the highest levels. While course corrections can be made, the pandemic continues to shine a spotlight on systemic flaws. Challenges can also bring opportunities for society to think differently about three things: humanity, process, and regulation.

Work environments must be rid of demanding or unreasonable bosses. Power plays do not belong in the workplace. Pure and simple, they are a form of bullying that diminishes motivation and reduces the value of work. Gaslighting can simply occur when bosses continuously demand attendance at Zoom meetings or shifts deadlines, yet fails to show up themselves. Organizations must empower employees to identify problematic situations safely to find resolutions.

We must implement smarter work processes and give people the flexibility to meet goals. In a 2021 Medium blog, high tech entrepreneur Dave Rensin called meetings bugs that needed to be squished. As a CEO, I found that was the hardest issue to control. He outlined three steps which included: Invite only the minimum number of people to the meeting [the decider, disagreeing parties, people who could answer questions that would drive a decision], actively run the meeting to make the decision or resolve the disagreement, and decide!

We also must remove the regulatory and tax barriers that inhibit employer and employee flexibility at the national and local levels. During the boom, my sister and I owned a virtual firm that employed mid-career female executives with family obligations which hindered their ability to work full time. Our independent contractors wanted to engage in high-performing projects and partner with peers of similar experience.  Some chose to do their contract work during nap times or after children were bathed and put to bed. Our teams overperformed resulting in long-term client relationships. However, as state tax rules and regulations changed, our ability to provide that flexible option became so limited and onerous, we decided to depart the business in the mid-2000s. Like the boom, the gig economy reintroduced flexible options that were beneficial to workers of all socio-economic backgrounds.

California’s recent AB5/Proposition 22 debate once again elevated discussion about the gig economy’s benefits to the individual when workers could file as a contractor versus an employee as they desired flexibility. The public conversation and legal battles continue, but the time is right, as workers and companies struggle to maintain forward momentum during a difficult economy.

Ultimately, we are only constrained by our own ethical commitments and imaginations.  It is time for business and public officials to visualize the future, ditch what isn’t working, and reimagine communities that support flexibility creating more productive employees and more competitive business environments. That will not only drive women back into the workforce but will help balance the burden of all employees.