Just one year ago, women had edged out men in the workforce for the first time in a decade, with slightly more than half occupying jobs in the U.S. Fast forward a year later, and we are facing a “she-cession” — as we’ve written several times over the last year, the COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately affecting women in the workforce.
At the start of the pandemic, 2.6 million women left the workforce. The pandemic has created a child-care crisis as daycare facilities and schools closed — and women have had to fill in the void. According to the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion, of the adults who aren’t currently working because of caregiving responsibilities, eight out of 10 are women. Vox has published a comic that effectively breaks down how the pandemic is forcing women out of the job market.
Will working women recover in 2021? Fortune asked six experts to weigh in. All agree that it will be a steep challenge to recoup the job losses. Melinda Gates, cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, calls for federal action — an investment in making caregiving part of our infrastructure is critical, she says, something another expert, Time’s Up President & CEO Tina Tchen, echoes.
“With the ratio of women working below 57 percent for the first time since 1988, the clock has clearly been turned back,” writes leadership expert Margie Warrell, Ph.D., in the recent Forbes article “Women Are Quitting: What We Can Do to Curb the ‘She-Cession.’” “Some might argue that it’s already done permanent damage to women. I refuse to subscribe to such a fatalist outlook. However, bouncing forward after this crisis to a stronger economy and a better future will require a collective commitment to supporting women.
The vaccine rollout is one reason Warrell is optimistic that this year will be a better one for women in the workforce than 2020. But that means that companies, she writes, will “need to prioritize efforts to support women in staying in the workforce through these difficult times and to keep moving up the managerial hierarchy.”
That’s especially important, she notes, because “throughout this crisis, we’ve seen just how important the feminine leadership attributes — empathy, collaboration, decision-making — that women bring to decision-making tables are to making optimal decisions.”