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Workers are leaving the retail industry in droves

June 23, 2021, 1:11 PM UTC
The 'Great Resignation' is reaching retail workforces.
Jeffrey Greenberg—Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Sen. Kyrsten Sinema stands by the filibuster, Bumble gives its workforce a week off, and the Great Resignation reaches retail. Have a great Wednesday.

– The Great Resignation. The retail chapter of the ‘Great Resignation’ has begun. In April, 649,000 retail workers gave notice, the “largest one-month exodus since the Labor Department began tracking such data more than 20 years ago,” according to the Washington Post.

Upheaval in the retail sector is particularly notable to the Broadsheet, since women account for the majority of retail workers (about 57%) and women of color are disproportionately represented in the industry.

So, what should we make of this record-breaking stat? On one hand, some of the female retail employees who are quitting right now are likely in the same boat as those forced to leave their jobs during the pandemic—overwhelmed by childcare and other family responsibilities that make keeping their paying gigs untenable.

But the Washington Post interviews with more than a dozen former retail employees suggest that, for at least some workers, the motivation is quite different: with the job market tightening and the economy on an upswing, they’re leaving their jobs because they believe they can find better opportunities elsewhere.

One of the women the Post talked to, Christina Noles, is leaving a job at a dollar store where she worked a sometimes grueling schedule for $10.25 an hour; five of her retail colleagues tested positive for COVID last winter. Now she’s starting a job with local law firm, working from home and earning $13 an hour, plus benefits.

This is good news. For women like Noles, a new job in a new sector could be transformative. And it’s not just those who leave retail who could benefit. Such an exodus is likely to put pressure on the industry, potentially benefiting those who opt to stay in their jobs or who are hired on by retailers in the coming months.

Raising retail wages is obviously a huge part of making the field more attractive—and companies have already moved in that direction as they scramble to fill open jobs (The Post notes that Target, Best Buy, Under Armour and Kay Jewelers all recently instituted a $15 an hour minimum). But for women especially, other changes—like more predictable schedules, better benefits, paid sick leave, and safer working conditions are also essential.

Retailers and the workers who keep them in business have been through a lot in the past year and half. If companies can seize this moment to make their sector a better place to work, this could be the turning point that breathes hope back into the industry.  

Plus: Today is the start of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, where we’ll hear from leaders like Canva CEO Melanie Perkins; author and activist Dylan Farrow; entrepreneur Bobbi Brown; and White House spokeswoman and strategist Symone Sanders. We’ll bring you highlights through the rest of the week.

Kristen Bellstrom

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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"As a woman, you probably have to think longer and harder about the way that you say things."

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