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The impact of COVID on women in the workplace

Posted on December 9, 2020
Image of a computer in a home office with a teddy bear sitting on the laptop.

Over the past nine months, hundreds of articles and myriads of data have been produced to demonstrate the impact of the pandemic on the workforce. Unemployment numbers over the course of the outbreak reached higher levels than during the Great Depression. While the unemployment numbers have come down, there is no doubt women have been more profoundly impacted by the pandemic than men. More specifically:

  • According to American Progress, four times as many women left the workforce than men in the month of September
  • The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that unemployment for younger women between the ages of 20 and 24 was double that of women from age 25-54
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, black and Latina women’s unemployment was nearly three times higher in the 3rd quarter of 2020 than it was in the same period in 2019, nearly double that of white women

The reasons for the impact schism between men and women results from four key factors:

  1. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics more women work in the following sectors (which were hit particularly hard in the pandemic)
    • Childcare 93%
    • Education and Health 74.8
    • Accommodation & Food Services 52.8%
    • Bars 54.7%
  2. While both mothers and fathers suddenly found themselves working from home, according to a USC Dornsife study, 1/3 of mothers reported being the sole caregiver and homeschooler for their children compared to only one in 10 fathers
  3. According to a July Washington Post article, the lack of childcare will set women back a generation
  4. SHRM reports its concerns that the pandemic will widen the already existing pay gap between men and women

I recognize that for a company struggling to make payroll right now, gender pay gaps, industry gender differences, and racial inequities might seem like lower level priorities, but I argue that now is the exact time to address these issues – head on.

  • Companies across all sectors must recognize the gaps and actively work to address those gaps
  • Companies have been hiring diversity officers, but that is not enough. Companies have to listen to, and empower, those diversity officers to make decisions and effect change
  • Policies and practices that have excluded certain demographics need to be changed
  • Companies need to use their funds and resources to demonstrate they are actively making a difference
  • Companies must work with employees to solve the childcare crisis
  • HR offices and senior leadership need to ensure, like for men, there are multiple career pathways for women and ensure there are ongoing conversations around career growth versus parenting or recapping last week’s birthday party

In all honesty, we can’t leave it solely in the hands of industry leaders. As women, we need to advocate for one another. We also need to lift one another up – especially those who have continually been pushed down. How? I think it starts with opening our eyes to actually seeing the struggles women have and making a commitment to make a difference. This begins with:

  • Give other women a seat and time to use their voice at the table
  • Elevate all women, but especially women of color by calling out their successes and achievements
  • Stop labeling women of color or asking them to speak for all women of color
  • Actively discuss pathways to promotion and engage in discussions around salary negotiation, conduct role play to provide experience
  • Listen and be empathetic and actively work with women to provide solutions
  • Do away with the mentality that because you had to extra hard, so should other women
  • Women in senior leadership roles must mentor those in junior roles

As a nation and as women, we cannot allow the pandemic to strip away the gains that have been made over the past twenty-five or more years. We have to fight for one another. We have to support one another. And we have to advocate for one another. Otherwise the losses incurred will have a long-lasting effect on us and on our daughters. There is no time better than today, right now, to reach out and support one of your fellow women colleagues.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor & Dept. Head, Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in professional-development-career-tips, leadership-management-skills