The Inequality Pandemic: How COVID pushed millions of women out of the workforce

From Julia Cramer, Content Specialist, Adomni

Synopsis: America is facing a crisis: women unemployment. Companies must find ways to support women and address the barriers surrounding their departure. 

Since the pandemic, a record number of women have departed the workforce, with more than 2.3 million women exiting between February 2020 and February 2021. For women of color, unemployment is disproportionately higher. According to the 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the unemployment rate was 8.5 percent for Black women and 8.8 percent for Latina women. This mass exodus is primarily associated with US school and daycare closures worldwide.

During the widespread pandemic lockdown, mothers were more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for caregiving and housework responsibilities, as reported by McKinsey and Company. And single mothers face an even heavier burden, with 81% more likely to spend an additional three or more hours a day on housework and childcare. 

The double-shift burden brought about by the lockdown causes a slippery slope where women reduce paid work hours to accommodate household duties, in turn risking their job, wages, benefits, or advancement opportunities. Companies need to take more significant steps to increase women's job security and prevent this 'she-cession' from further damaging women's employment rates. 

According to Paid Leave for the United States, the U.S is the only industrialized country without a national paid family leave, causing people to go into debt or permanently lose their jobs for having a child. Organizations can create a more inclusive and equitable working environment for working parents, specifically with parent-friendly schedules and childcare policies and programs such as tutoring and caregiver support. McKinsey's research found remote-working mothers who report work efficiency and schedule flexibility are three times more likely than those without work efficiency to have a positive state of well-being. Therefore, organizations that adhere to flexible schedules can see improvements in their employees and decrease women's unemployment. 

Companies must also recognize racial disparities in the workforce by building an understanding of intersectionality in their policies and practices. Kimberlé Crenshaw defines intersectionality as a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. Essentially a holistic approach to examining how various socioeconomic factors such as race, gender, and sexual orientation, must be considered to understand why specific individuals experience discrimination. With an intersectional approach, companies can harvest an inclusive working environment, creating allyship and structural change.  

The devastating effects caused by the pandemic will be felt for years to come. Food crises, poverty, and the gender pay gap will further anguish women’s economic and social security. That is why it is pertinent for companies to create a more equal and inclusive environment, investing in child care programs and policies, flexible work arrangements, and education on intersectionality. Action must be taken in order for women to feel safe and successful in the workplace.