How Covid-19 is Forcing Women out of the Workforce

In December 2020 the economy lost 140,000 jobs and it might shock you to learn that all of those jobs belonged to women. Let’s break that down so we can all wrap our heads around it.

  • Women lost 156,000 jobs in December and men gained 16,000.
  • There were nearly 2.1 million fewer women in the labor force in December than there were in February, before the pandemic started.
  • Women have suffered the majority of pandemic-related job losses: since February 2020, women lost over 5.4 million net jobs, and account for 55.0% of overall net job loss since the start of the crisis.
  • Black and Latina women were disproportionately affected. And, these numbers don’t include the millions of women who have been forced to leave the workforce themselves due to school/day care closures.

Just one year ago for the first time since 2010, women actually slightly outnumbered men in the US workforce. Covid-19 is setting women’s progress in the workforce back drastically.

So why have women been so adversely affected compared to men? McKinsey released their research on this last year and there are a lot of factors that are playing into this. But broadly speaking:

  • The virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid child care, which is disproportionately carried by women. Remember there are way more single moms (84% of total US single parent families) than single dads (16%) to start with. And when dual parent families are making their decisions about who is going to stay home, it’s women who are stepping back into those traditional gender roles. 
  • Overall, women’s jobs and livelihoods are more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic because of existing gender inequalities. Like the Gender Pay Gap for example. If dads are earning more than moms to start with it would make sense that dad stays in employment and mom quits her job to stay home.
  • Female jobs are 19 percent more at risk than male ones simply because women are disproportionately represented in sectors negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Women had more than the average share of employment in three of the four most Covid affected sectors like accommodations, retail and food service for example. So have been hit harder.

Another major challenge these women face is that by the time the jobs start to come back and open up again they will have been out of work a very long time. We know that long periods of time out of work make getting a job harder and also that when you do finally get another job the wages are likely to be lower. This will in turn widen the gender pay gap.

What can be done about this?

There is much proof in the McKinsey research and elsewhere to support the thinking that “What is good for gender equality is good for the economy and for society as well.”  McKinsey’s modeling established a strong link between gender equality in society and gender equality in work – and showed that the latter is not achievable without the former.

It’s obvious that now more than ever, companies need to address any gender inequalities in their hiring and firing practice and pay women and men equally. But we need to do more. It’s been proven that women will hire more women than their male colleagues. But with fewer women in those hiring positions now, companies need to incentivize hiring and promoting women, identify and train the women who remain for their leadership potential and work on eliminating friction in the work-from-home economy that’s burning so many women out. 

We need to decrease childcare burdens and attitudinal bias about women’s “commitment” to work in the midst of a pandemic to speed up recovery. We also need to increase public and private spending on services such as education and childcare to help women re-enter the labor market quickly and at a fair wage. This in turn supports other women as it’s mostly women working in education and childcare.

Major change is needed and it starts at home and reaches all the way to congress. Women need more support from the men in their families, to decrease their domestic and childcare responsibilities. We need law-makers to pass public spending bills that support women getting back to work.

If we cannot make these changes the impact on women is going to affect us economically for years to come. We will widen the gender wage gap which will have a huge impact for the financial security of women, and of the families who are depending on women. So in the post pandemic world I will leave you with this – Hire right, hire bright, hire a woman.

Katrina Shaw