The Pandemic’s Disproportionate Impact On Women — And How Businesses Can Help
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In March, Gallup released an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment trends, as well as data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau and Gallup itself, to see how women are faring as a result of the pandemic. Employment trends were gathered between February 2020 and February 2021. For this analysis, Gallup said the numbers of women and men in the workforce in February 2020 were “considered 100% participation,” and the subsequent labor force percentages are “relative to that baseline.”
Early in the pandemic, both men and women experienced declines in labor force participation, with men’s participation dropping 4% and women’s dropping 5%, Gallup’s analysis found. Women’s participation started to catch back up with men’s over the summer, but there was another drop in the fall, with women experiencing a sharper drop than men again. “Since September, a gender gap of about one percentage point has persisted, and little progress has been made in restoring pre-Covid-19 employment levels,” Gallup reported.
Meanwhile, the National Women’s Law Center found women’s workforce participation reached 57% in February, the lowest participation rate since 1988. Even before the pandemic, women were overrepresented in low-paying jobs, and roughly half of Latina, Black and Native American women were living below 200% of the federal poverty line. And as of February 2021, more than 2.3 million American women have left the labor force since February 2020, the NWLC report also said.
Why were women so disproportionately affected?
To put those numbers into perspective, more than 1.8 million men left the labor force as of this past February. That is a difference of almost half a million women.
From my perspective, women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic because of their perceived roles and worth. Consider:
* Many women still remain in charge of household and family duties. For many women, one of the biggest reasons for needing to leave work or reduce their work hours was child care. Even in families where there is a man present in the home, women often take up the slack when children need to be cared for.
How can leaders support women right now?
* Many negatively impacted jobs are traditionally filled by women. Many of the jobs that were most affected by the pandemic are jobs that women are far more likely to fill, such as roles in the services industries. Low-income and minority women, as well as single mothers, “fill most of the essential jobs that cannot be done from home and, therefore, carry the most risk for exposure to the virus,” according to the New York Times.
There are a number of ways leaders can help women rise up and see fair representation in the workplace, including:
* Provide child care assistance. It’s important that women are able to share child care responsibilities so they aren’t expected to be in charge of all those duties themselves. In your organization, consider offering company benefits such as remote flexibility or day care to help support women employees who need help caring for their children.
* Ensure women are represented in male-dominated industries. It’s often said that “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” But even if a woman does not yet have training in a certain position, often they can easily become qualified and receive the minimal training needed. As a business leader, you can institute programs that cultivate female talent and encourage women to more aggressively pursue career advancement.
* Offer telecommuting opportunities. Many employers now recognize that their workers are at least as productive, if not more so, when they are allowed to work from home. Remote work can also be a great option for women and parents who are trying to balance the many responsibilities put on their shoulders at home and at work. So, consider offering more remote or hybrid work opportunities to parents on your team.
* Help women develop broader networks. Encourage the women on your team to seek out networking opportunities where they can find the resources and support they need. Perhaps there are local groups near you where women help one another with issues that affect them; there are also larger groups women can join that offer a much wider network of experts and advisors who share the same experiences. Remind the women on your team that they don’t have to push forward on their own and they are not alone.
* Cultivate confidence. While I believe women are capable of doing more with less, from my perspective, many women still give too much and end up in a position where they do not have the energy or confidence to get out of a negative mindset. So, ensure the women on your team have opportunities to hone their abilities and take ownership of their successes.
Women have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. However, as a business leader, you have an opportunity to support the women in your company and help them end up in a better position than before. Instead of accepting the losses, women can use them to come back in a different, stronger place.