Why Did Four Times More Women Than Men Leave the Workforce in September?

Here are some recommendations from workplace experts on how to stop the coronavirus crisis from creating a backwards slide in gender diversity.

Author: Michelle Russell       


The coronavirus crisis has caused far more women than men to drop out of the labor force, according to the National Women’s Law Center. (Adobe Photo/Convene illustration)

Last week, we wrote about how McKinsey & Company’s sixth annual Women in the Workplace study spotlighted the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women workers. One in four women, the report concluded, is considering downshifting her career or leaving the workforce because of COVID-19.

The National Women’s Law Center’s (NWLC) newly published fact sheet reinforces that women have borne the brunt of the coronavirus crisis in the workforce. Analyzing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly jobs report, NWLC reports that of the 1.1 million workers aged 20 and higher who dropped out of the labor force in September — meaning they are no longer working or looking for work — 80 percent were women. That figure amounts to 865,000 women out of work, including 324,000 Latinas and 58,000 Black women. Put another way, four times more women than men stopped working or looking for work in September.

Emily Martin, the NWLC’s vice president for education and workplace justice, attributed the disparity to women’s other and unpaid role: caregivers. “This is the devastating impact of the ongoing breakdown of our nation’s caregiving infrastructure in the face of COVID-19,” Martin told CNBC “As families across the country struggle to figure out how to keep their jobs while also making sure their children are cared for, safe, and learning every day, it’s women who are being pushed out of work.”

In “Don’t Let the Pandemic Set Back Gender Equality,” a recent Harvard Business Review article, three partners and a senior fellow at McKinsey write: “Progress towards greater gender equality has been hesitant and halting over the past five years and the COVID-19 pandemic now risks sending it into reverse.”

Hitting closer to home in the business events industry, the authors’ analysis shows that “globally 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, such as accommodation and food service.”

If no action is taken to counter the pandemic’s “regressive effects,” McKinsey estimates put global GDP growth at $1 trillion lower in 10 years than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector.

McKinsey research shows that gender diversity is a key to an organization’s financial success: Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. “Moreover,” the authors add, “companies now pulling back on diversity and inclusion may be placing themselves at a disadvantage by limiting their access to talent, diverse skills, leadership styles, and perspectives.”

The authors recommend that leaders of organizations take three actions to halt a backwards slide in gender equality:

  1. Pay attention to what internal data reveals, including whether job losses and requests for leave are higher among women and if gender balance is being maintained with new hires.
  2. Actively consider how to factor the pandemic’s impact into performance reviews, and reinvent traditional diversity practices, like employee resource groups, in a virtual workplace.
  3. Encourage practicing gender diversity not just within their own organizations but more broadly across their supply chains and distribution channels.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

Related Posts

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.