The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the inequalities that exist in our society, including racial inequality, gender inequality and the intersectionality of the two. For women, the pandemic has caused a staggering loss of jobs. In the U.S. in December 2020, women lost a total of 156,000 jobs compared to the 16,000 jobs gained by men. More than 2 in 5 of the 12.1 million women’s jobs lost between February and April have not yet returned.
This inequitable unemployment is due in part to a few different factors. For one, the industries that got hit hardest by the pandemic include the retail, leisure and hospitality, and child-care industries —all of which are predominantly made up of female employees. Additionally, with schools and day care-centers closed, many women have taken on additional caregiving roles, which for many women, especially single mothers, can be near impossible to manage while maintaining a job.
So what can be done to help women re-enter the workforce?
In January 2021, CEOs and celebrities including Whitney Wolfe Herd of Bumble, Sallie Krawcheck of Ellevest, and Payal Kadakia of Classpass, signed a letter in the New York Times calling on President Biden to enact a Marshall Plan for Moms. They requested that President Biden spend his first 100 days:
- Establishing a task force to create a Marshall Plan for Moms
- Implementing a short-term monthly payment to moms depending on needs and resources
- Passing long-overdue policies like paid family leave, affordable childcare and pay equity.
Companies can implement policies and programs to help women return to work and continue to grow in their careers despite the impact of the last year.
These could include:
- Removing pandemic gap year bias: If someone hasn’t worked in 2020 it shouldn’t be a reason to dismiss them as a candidate for a job.
- Keeping the flexibility of the past year as an option, even as employees begin to return to the office. We have seen that remote work and flexible hours can still create productive environments so some of this should continue.
- Creating returnships or re-entry programs for women who have been out of the workforce for a few years to help them ease back into a work environment
- Training women in new skills: The tech industry boomed last year and by creating certification and training programs women can learn the skills needed to fill these jobs.
We cannot let the progress made over the past few decades slip away in a single year. Women are needed in the workforce and we must build the structures that allow women to work and thrive.