By Kimberly Kafafian
Even before the first studies and research results were released, I could have told you how the pandemic was disproportionately impacting working women. I saw it in my community when shops run and staffed by women were shuttered overnight. When schools and daycares were suddenly closed, friends and family – myself included – struggled with child care. And as an HR consultant, I witnessed it in workplaces as women left their positions to care for their children when childcare options vanished. So no, I don’t need facts and figures to convince me that the gender disparity in the workplace widened as a result of the pandemic.
But, I will share those facts and figures here because they need to have a light shone on them. We, as a nation, need to understand the negative impact the pandemic has had on women’s careers and work-life balance, so we can take steps to help level the playing field for women in the long run.
Research Reveals Gender Disparities
In January, the Pew Research Center released a report that found that some gender disparities widened in the U.S. workforce because of the pandemic. First statistic of note is that job losses overall were greater among women than men. This, itself, is a serious setback. As you dive deeper into the results, they become even more alarming:
- The number of women ages 25 and older in the workforce has fallen 1.3% since the third quarter of 2019 compared to 1.1% for men
- Women who have no education beyond high school left the labor force in greater numbers than similarly educated men
- Looking at the third quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2020, the number of women in the labor force who did not graduate high school decreased 12.8% whereas comparably educated men only contracted 4.9%
What accounts for these gaps? Much of it has to do with occupations. Women tend to be overrepresented in industries like health care, food preparation and personal service occupations – all of which were severely hit during the pandemic.
Closure of day care centers and schools also played its part. The burden of childcare fell heavily on women’s shoulders. The result: working moms left their positions, stunting their career tracks.
The Impact of this Gender Disparity
Women have suffered serious setbacks over the last two years, facing breaks in their careers and reduced earnings – both in terms of salary and lifetime income. When women’s careers are interrupted it can result in lower wages and lost advancement opportunities, which impacts long term earning potential. But as things start to return to normal, will women’s workforce numbers start to climb?
Alarmingly, research by the National Women’s Law Center found that post pandemic job recovery has been slower for women, stating:
“[M]en have now recouped all their labor force losses since February 2020 while over 1 million fewer women were in the labor force in January 2022 as compared to February 2020. The sharp contrast between the number of men and women in the labor force likely reflects the uneven caregiving responsibilities men and women have taken on in the pandemic which have caused continued school and child care disruptions.”
Yana Rodgers, professor with Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Management and Labor Relations and School of Arts and Sciences also affirms the disproportionate impact:
“In 2020, women with school-age children definitely experienced a “COVID motherhood penalty,” as evidenced by growing gender gaps in employment/population ratios and working hours. School and day care center closures required parents to spend more time at home caring for children and supervising their schooling, and the bulk of this work fell on the shoulders of women.”
So what now?
Creating a More Equal Playing Field
These statistics prove we need to take action to boost job recovery – and fast. Women already suffer from the gender pay gap LINK TO BLOG. Staying out of the workforce will only widen that gap even further.
Companies benefit greatly from having women in the workforce – but that’s a topic for another blog. Just know that there’s plenty of research to back that up. So it’s incumbent upon employers to put initiatives in place that can help even the playing field, such as:
- Endorsing paternity leave from the leadership level to neutralize the stigma of the “mommy track”
- Providing child care support
- Promoting professional development
- Offering educational opportunities
- Allowing remote working when possible
- Permitting flexible work hours
The goal should be to offer workplace policies that promote achieving career aspirations and lessening gender stereotypes and disparities.