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Let's keep talking about women in the workplace!

Posted on March 5, 2021
Image of a woman, likely Hispanic, in business attire with the word in red across the image saying "She-Cession"

On Wednesday (3/3/21), I moderated the Pennoni Honor’s College Panel Discussion entitled, “COVID-19 and the ‘She-Cession’.” The session is part of a series in honor of Women’s History Month. The three esteemed panelists were Aliya Hamid Rao, an Assistant Professor in Qualitative Research Methodology in the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics and Political Science; Ariane Hegewisch, the Program Director of Employment and Earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and a Scholar in Residence at American University; and Nina Sun, the Deputy Director of Global Health and Human Rights and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Community Health and Prevention in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health. In preparing to moderate the panel, I reviewed some data I had written about earlier this year documenting the backwards trajectory of women in the workplace due to the pandemic.

According to the New York Times, this is the first time since 1948 that women have experienced double-digit unemployment. The impact on women in the workplace is enormous – the job losses, loss of benefits, impact on health and wellbeing, and the list goes on. The panelists spoke about the impact on women from three different angles: a sociological perspective – meaning the impact on women more broadly and the role of women in society, from a health care perspective – how the pandemic impacts women’s health and how lack of access to healthcare and reproductive care and family planning impacts women, and finally from an economic perspective – specifically the wage gap and the long-term implications.

Given this is the beginning of Women’s History Month, I thought I would share some highlights from the panel discussion:

  • March 24th is Equal Pay Day – this indicates how far into the year (meaning adding to last year’s income) to earn the same their male counterparts earned last year.
  • Marginalized women cannot catch up any time soon – it will take Hispanic women over 200 years to catch up (at the current earning rates) to their male counterparts and 100 years for Black women.
  • While the number of women earning academic degrees equaled that of men in the mid-1980s, it was only in 2019 that as many women in the workplace as men held academic degrees.
  • Gender based violence has increased with the pandemic.
  • Women’s access to healthcare, family planning, etc. is a moral issue and one that holds women back in the workforce.
  • The US, unlike most developed nations, does not offer paid maternity leave. Specifically, of the 193 countries in the United Nations, only three do not offer maternity leave – the US, New Guinea, and Suriname, and a few islands in the South Pacific. 
  • Of the 6 hours of additional work that needed to be conducted in the home with the Pandemic, women worked four of those six hours, while their husbands worked only two.

It was an excellent discussion, and I could list a dozen more facts and statistics. But my goal in writing this post is to follow up on my call to action at the conclusion of the panel discussion – and that is for all of us: women, men, trans people, marginalized people, everyone to continue this dialogue. The cat is out of the bag and we have to ensure it does not go back in, and we do this by pressing the issue forward with all around us – with each other, with colleagues, with friends and family, acquaintances, our local representatives and our national representatives.

Someone in the audience asked how to have a dialogue with someone who doesn’t believe that statistics or data are true and accurate. The panelists all agreed that that is a tough hill to climb, but suggested that you try a couple of things:

  • See if there is a common ground from which to begin the dialogue
  • Reframe what you are saying in a way they can hear it
  • Find a messenger within their community who can help deliver the message
  • Have data and statistics at your fingertips to counteract their lack of knowledge or misperceptions

Some key topics to consider as you pursue dialogue are:

Shifting our thinking – we have to begin, as a society, to shift our thinking away from women must be the primary care givers and then apply double standards, such as applauding men when they say they need to take the afternoon off to take their son to the doctor but penalize women to do that. And as a society, we need to stop assigning certain tasks to women versus men, so we can stop this notion that some things are “women’s work.” Suggested Reading.

Wage Gap – we need transparency in wages, so it is more difficult for companies to pay a man a higher wage than a woman for the same job. As women, we need to talk about what we earn, so we know if we are being offered less than our male counterparts. Suggested Reading.

Diversity and Equity in the Workplace – it is not enough to simply check a box to report that X% of employees are minority. Policies and practices need to be put in place to support minority employees such that they stay at the company, that they are provided pathways, just like their white counterparts, to grow and develop. It is not enough to give minorities a seat at the table, we need to ensure their voices are heard, valued, and acted upon. Suggested Reading.

What do We Value – we have to figure out, as a community, company, and country, what we value? How can we say we value women as employees, but then have policies and practices in place that hinder women? 

Access to Healthcare and Family Planning – women have an absolute right to determine when and if they want to have a family. Being forced to have a child due to lack of access to family planning and even abortion, is essentially holding women back and it perpetuates the stereotype of a woman’s role in society. Suggested Reading.

Access to Child Care – we need high quality and affordable childcare, so women are not forced to make a decision to leave their job because childcare costs more than the salary they are bringing home. Suggested Reading.

Introduce Girls to a Variety of Academic Areas We have traditionally pushed girls and young women to careers in communications, nursing, the arts, etc., versus business, chemistry, engineering, etc. and these jobs pay less as well, which furthers the overall wage gap. There should be no career path that is designated female or male. Suggested Reading.

There are many more topics, but these give you a few to start with. And I would be remiss not to state that all of these topics have a greater impact on marginalized women. I have also provided a link in each of these topic areas to provide a wider context and give you some basic stats and talking points.

Please keep the dialogue going!


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor & Dept. Head, Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in leadership-management-skills, innovation-workplace