How the Pandemic Has Affected Women in the Workplace - Zupnick Associates

(by Corinna Underwood)

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on women’s employment throughout the U.S. since the economy is hard on women and the pandemic has increased existing tensions. Several million American women were already supporting themselves and their families with a meager income even before the coronavirus lockdowns were put in place and unemployment soared as jobs disappeared.

To add to the problem, many working mothers were already juggling their jobs with childcare responsibilities. The disruption of schools and childcare services made things even more difficult.

During September 2020, four times as many women as men became unemployed, this highlights the impact COVID-19 is having on women. A reported 25 percent of these women dropped out of the labor force due to lack of available childcare. These losses in school supervision and childcare could have long-term effects on women’s total incomes. A crushing blow to families and communities that have been hardest hit by pandemic-induced economic hardship.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Childcare

As many studies show, disruption of childcare affects more women than men. This has resulted in many women having no option but to reduce their work hours or leave their jobs altogether to care for their children and to help with their education at home.

Earlier this year, many schools and childcare providers halted their services due to COVID-19. This is beginning to happen again due to the latest coronavirus surge. As well as childcare for pre-school children, many school-aged children with working parents also require care before and after school hours. According to the Center for American Progress, an estimated 4.5 million childcare placements could be permanently lost due to the pandemic. This could potentially affect at least 2.3 million families.

Research also shows that Black and Latinx mothers are more likely than white mothers to be taking on the burden of childcare. Additionally, they are more likely to be the sole breadwinners in their families or to have a partner who goes out to work during COVID-19 rather than working from home.   

The Impact of COVID-19 and Women in the Workforce

It’s difficult to assess the full impact of this exodus of women from the workforce, partly because America is still in the midst of it, but also there is no historic precedent to compare it to. However, it is already clear to see that the hard-earned progress that women have earned in the labor market, in terms of representation, over the past few years is quickly evaporating.

Economists and business analysts agree that this is not good for women nor for the economy overall. What progress has been made towards gender pay equality will certainly be stalled if not completely reversed. It is also likely that the number of women in C-suite roles will decrease, which will harm the companies they work for.

Women’s departure from the workplace during COVID-19 is already having a noticeable impact on female-dominated industries, such as:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Eldercare

Some startling statistics highlight this fact. During March and April of 2020, daycares laid off more than 250,000 workers, 72 percent of housekeepers had lost their jobs, and many restaurants lost their dine-in business literally overnight and laid off their servers, 70 percent of which were women.

Women who left the labor force this year, either by choice or by necessity, will probably feel the impact for the rest of their life. But the U.S. economy will also suffer. A study conducted by staff at Pepperdine University revealed that companies that hire women executives have increased profitability due to the important skills women bring to the labor market and the innovations they drive. Less diverse companies tend not to be as successful.

Unlike most other industrialized nations, the United States federal government has been letting women down for decades by not guaranteeing them paid parental leave. This makes it hard, if not impossible, for many women to care for family members who become sick or for their children who are suddenly left without childcare. According to the top economists, the lack of preparations for such events is likely to increase and delay long-term recovery for women and the economy in general.

Improvements in gender equality in the workplace could be one of the longest-lasting casualties of the coronavirus pandemic and could possibly reverse women’s role in the labor market by up to a decade. Pre-COVID-19, women already had more precarious positions in the workforce than men, working fewer hours for lower pay, having shorter tenures, and lower-ranking positions.

Loss of childcare puts them at the top of the list for layoffs and unpaid leave and for women who are ready to return to work,  jobs are scarce these days.  As the pandemic continues to surge, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how and when women will recover their place in the labor market.

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