Last year, in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we shared a blog on Hardworking Women By The Numbers, a look at some of the impressive statistics on the talented women paving the way in medicine, science, tech, law, higher education and more. This past year, women have faced unprecedented challenges in their careers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a look at how COVID-19 has impacted women’s careers, from the considerable challenges that they have faced to the bright spots and opportunities created by an increasingly digital professional and educational world.
The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on nearly every facet of our lives, but the impact on women’s careers is concerning and dramatic. Here are some of the facts and figures surrounding how the pandemic has affected employment and advancement for women in the workplace.
Roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men left the labor force in September, causing experts to predict that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as a result of insufficient childcare, will “set them back a generation.” Black and Latina women have been most affected by these changes, at a rate of 1.6 – 2 times as likely to have lost their jobs, have been on the front lines as first responders and had to resolve interruption in child care.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, women performed an average of twice as much unpaid care and work compared to men. This disparity has been made more stark by the pandemic, with a disproportionate amount of shopping, cleaning, and care-taking of children and aging parents has been carried out by women.
With a projected impact on 2.25 million families. 70% of parents of children under the age of 5 have reported that their child care provider is either closed or operating in a limited manner. 10% of mothers reported not working each week because they were providing child care and 20% of working parents reported they or their partner were considering leaving the workforce to fulfill child care for their family. Even older children, who do not require constant supervision, still have some supervisory needs during the day, forcing parents to provide remote learning supervision during their work day.
The estimated amount in lost wages and economic activity risked by mothers reducing hours and leaving the workforce. In 2019, there were 10 million mothers of young children in the labor force, drawing a stark picture of the cost of insufficient child care on long-term economic recovery. If even just 1% of mothers shift from full-time to part-time work, it would result in $5 billion less wages per year as well as lost benefits like paid vacation or sick time and health insurance.
Female workforce participation has dropped to 57%, which is the lowest level since 1988 and is in the most extreme decline since WWII. As an online training company, this is a devastating statistic, as this form of training and development is accessible now, during a pandemic, allowing learners to continue to develop their skills and careers during an incredibly challenging time. Self-directed learning can nurture professional development and create outstanding leaders and lifelong learners.
There are concrete, and critical, steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on women’s careers as we recover in the years post-COVID. In their 2020 report, Women in the Workplace, McKinsey & Company completed the largest comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America, how the pandemic has affected women at work, and the unique impact on women of different races and ethnicities, working mothers, women in senior leadership, and women with disabilities. In their report, McKinsey & Co. outline a few bright spots that could be leveraged as opportunities to pave an even better path forward for women’s careers.
The COVID-19 crisis has caused companies to radically shift their approach to where and how we work, and that has included allowing more roles to be performed remotely or with more flexibility. This change, if made permanent, could allow for more employees to work remotely which would have enormous benefits to mothers, caregivers and people with disabilities. Remote work makes positions more accessible to those who can not realistically travel, relocate or commute long distances.
The intense experience of the pandemic may have fostered a more open and empathetic workplace for employees, who are connecting on a more personal level with each other and their managers than ever before. Seeing each other as “whole people” increases productivity, happiness and satisfaction in their roles.
The pandemic’s forceful push into “flexible,” or at least nontraditional, working arrangements could have a positive permanent effect on how we expect women to show up for work and balance their professional roles with other roles in their lives. Offering flexibility for women to work during “off” hours, or during flexed work weeks, can pay off in their own satisfaction and their loyalty and dedication to their organization, as can options like lactation rooms and on-site childcare in industries where that flexibility isn’t an option.
Some of what felt like drawbacks initially to pandemic working life, like the lack of office face time, have their upsides; in an article on lessons learned by women leaders during COVID, one founder noted that once coffee meetings and social-work obligations became virtual, they were minimized in her schedule and freed up more time for her to focus on what was important and strategic in her work. Others emphasized the improvement in their creativity and focus due to a slower pace and ability to limit distractions.
49% of women cybersecurity professionals in the US and UK felt their career was impacted positively by COVID-19, with 89% saying they felt secure in their jobs. The trick is encouraging more women to join the thriving industry; only 26% of college graduates 18-25 were likely to consider a job in cybersecurity. The diversification of the cybersecurity industry would have a huge payoff for the US economy by increasing the number of women in the sector to equal that of men, to the tune of $12.7 billion!
As always, Vector Solutions is proud to call so many talented and skilled women leaders and contributors to our unique culture. Now, more than ever, we believe it is critical to empower more girls and women to succeed – in tech, in science – and everywhere else, too. This pandemic has created unprecedented challenges, but in each of them lies an opportunity to rebuild better than before. In 2021 and beyond, Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day must not be a single moment we recognize, but part of an ongoing commitment to ensuring women’s role in the labor force is championed and supported because of the vital and irreplaceable role women play in our economy and culture. Creating roles and compensating women for their critical role in our economy ensures a better, brighter future for everyone.