The year 2021 marked a historically significant moment for women as we inaugurated the very first female vice president. While it’s a step in the right direction in the political arena, the work is far from over for women in the workforce. Unfortunately, as a pandemic ravages our country, women are being terminated at higher rates than their male counterparts. This is happening while they also absorb more of the burden of childcare responsibilities at home. In a jarring report by CNN, the final month of 2020 saw 140,000 jobs lost. Every single loss belonged to a woman.
As generations of women have tirelessly worked for a seat at the table, the impact of the pandemic cannot be understated. Women, particularly women of color, are seeing their chairs removed as businesses attempt to combat the impact of COVID-19 on our economy. This initial response may seem temporary and easily remedied, but women will again face hurdles to recover financially as well as professionally from these actions. Whether that means having to dig out of a financial hole, facing lapses in insurance, or simply displacement from the work to which they dedicated their time, job loss is never a simple problem.
Why Is the Pandemic Affecting Working Women More Than Men?
Despite proving time and time again to be stellar employees, the job cuts are disproportionately affecting women. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the decline in employment affected women in a way that “cannot be explained by employer characteristics.”
So, what is happening then?
One reasonable explanation for the more pronounced impact on women could be simply that they have a greater presence in the industries most affected, such as hospitality and customer service. However, the research tells a little more of the story. Once again, the women hit the hardest came from the lower-income brackets. Unmarried mothers were more likely to lose their job in April and less likely to return in May when the recession slowed. Furthermore, data from this current recession suggests that one might be further impacted across all industries if they are older, Black, Asian, or an immigrant.
Conversely, some job loss is not the result of a cut. Rather, it is the result of an inability to meet the demands of a job because of outside forces. Despite women making up the majority in the jobs on the frontline of this pandemic as healthcare and education workers, they have fewer options in regards to childcare. Since the responsibility of childcare or eldercare often defaults to mothers, school closures eliminated the ability to work for some women who cannot work remotely.
The Bigger Picture
At the beginning of the pandemic, many were hoping to return to work after a short hiatus. While that was true for some, many have not been afforded the opportunity to regain their employment. It’s also become clear that the impact of job loss has more critical consequences than the obvious loss of income.
The long-term impacts for women, especially working mothers, is staggering. Loss of financial security and healthcare will take time to overcome once women get back to work. Additionally, this setback will affect their long-term goals of securing savings and obtaining promotions. It may even delay retirements. Unfortunately, the comeback for traditionally marginalized groups is going to be a steeper hill to climb.
Some other unintended consequences of the pandemic on women include:
- Higher rates of domestic abuse
- More stress for mothers with students needing to be home from school
- Care for the elderly outside of care facilities is falling onto adult women
- Women are leaving college
- A greater risk of falling into poverty due to lack of safety net and savings
A vaccine brings the promise of recovery, so now the real work begins. How can we bridge this problem for women, especially those who are more adversely impacted? Quite simply, companies will have to make a conscientious effort to put women first.
To prioritize women, we must give them a seat at the table. Restoring the limited progress women have made in order to re-establish the lost ground of gender equality is essential to the recovery of our economy. In reality, we should be taking this one step further and bringing true work equality, but recovery must come first. A passive attempt to address this matter will not be enough. Businesses big and small should be working to advance women intentionally.
As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of U.N. Women details in her New York Times interview, placing women in leadership roles with decision-making abilities will lead to better results for women. Any effort going forward to increase mobility in the workforce for women means that we have to focus not just on hiring and training, but advancing current employees into positions that will further give other females a voice to enact necessary change for meaningful progress.
The success of women is linked to the success of our society. They are the mothers, the caregivers, and the providers; we must give them representation in all facets of life. Businesses are no exception. We cannot let the recession delay progress for generations. We have an obligation to aid and amplify the talents of women to create a better business world, now and going forward.