Just over a year ago the pandemic exploded into a national emergency, and women were disproportionally impacted. Women comprised the majority of the “frontline” workers and bore the brunt of caring for children no longer in school. Layoffs and furloughs hit women the hardest, especially women of color. In the workplace, women have been impacted by the pandemic in ways that men have not.
According to Pew Research, three sectors of businesses lost 59% of the total jobs from February to May 2020: leisure and hospitality, education and healthcare, and retail. These sectors accounted for 47% of the jobs held by women compared to only 28% for men.
Working women traditionally carry a greater burden of the caretaking roles in their families. One out of every four working women have a child under 14 and rely on schools and daycare facilities to provide childcare. Over the past year, families have had to make difficult decisions regarding childcare during a pandemic. The Pew Research Center showed that mothers were more likely to make the decision to leave work due to the childcare needs during the pandemic.
For the first time ever, women are leaving the workforce at a higher rate than men. McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org stated that due to the pandemic, 1 in 4 women are “downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce.” In January, another 275, 000 women left the job force and 2.3 million have left since the beginning of the pandemic. The current percentage of women participating in the job market is 57% which is the lowest rate since 1988.
The pandemic will have a negative lasting impact on women in the workforce. It has rolled back the progress that has been made on gender equality and it will take years to regain momentum. Loss of income, for even a short period, will have a direct impact on long term wealth and retirement. Also, when women leave the workforce, they fall behind professionally, and advancement opportunities may suffer, as if women have a “broken rung” on the corporate ladder. LeanIn.org states, “The broken rung has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline.”
These numbers sound grim, but as vaccines are made available to more people and our economy continues to recover, there are actions that individual businesses can take to address the challenges women face in a post-pandemic world:
Provide Flexibility, If Possible
Last year, many businesses were able to pivot and offer their employees the ability to work from home. Use that experience to determine future work options including hours, workplace, and individual needs.
Continue to Provide COVID-related Leave
The American Rescue Plan of 2021 extended the tax credits on FFCRA leave through September 2021. The mandate to provide this leave ended in December 2020, however employers can voluntarily provide the leave and receive the tax credits. This leave not only helps individuals during time of sickness or quarantine, but also extends to family care. This can be particularly helpful to working mothers and caregivers.
Evaluate the Hiring Process
The longer someone is without a job, the longer it takes to find a new job. The groups most impacted by long term unemployment are women and people of color. A McKinsey study predicts it will take them two more years on average to recover jobs than men. When hiring, be careful not to stigmatize people who have not been employed for months and evaluate the full situation. Also, consider training programs to bring individuals who have been out of the workforce for longer than six months up to speed.
Do Not Forget the Men
Many of the reasons that women are suffering more right now have to do with traditional gender roles that have been in places for generations. It is important to check your own company’s gender biases by thinking about the use of language and assumed roles. Do you offer parental leave instead of maternity leave? Do the men in the organization receive the same messages about work-life balance and family time as the women? Do you think of certain jobs as “male” and other jobs as “female?” Gender equality requires thinking about both genders equally.
We have all adapted and learned so much over the past year. We have pivoted, transformed our work, and made health a priority. As our country slowly emerges out of the pandemic, businesses and individuals must act to help women rejoin the workforce. Our economy is stronger when women are working and contributing. It is important that we protect the hard-won gains towards gender equality that have been made over decades and not let the pandemic hold us back.
Propel HR President Lee Yarborough was recently elected Chair of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO) Board of Directors. Lee, along with other women leaders, share valuable insights in the March issue of PEO Insider magazine.
Download their inspiring stories at: "Women's Leadership: Experiences, Issues & Journeys."
About Propel HR. Propel HR is an IRS-certified PEO that has been a leading provider of human resources and payroll solutions for 25 years. Propel partners with small to midsized businesses to manage payroll, employee benefits, compliance and risks, and other HR functions in a way that maximizes efficiency and reduces costs.