It is not new information that women have long endured a disadvantage in the workforce; from the gender pay-gap to sexism rooted in the workplace, women have been fighting for equality for a long time. Now, with an added global pandemic, things have only gotten worse.
Studies have shown that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this global pandemic than men’s jobs. According to McKinsey & Co., women make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses. The Center for American Progress wrote that around 865,000 women, compared to 216,000 men, left the labor force in September 2020 as a result of COVID-19. The Biden Administration called this a “national emergency.”
When asked why they lost their jobs or reduced their hours during the pandemic, 1 in 4 women answered it was because of a lack of childcare, which is twice the rate among men. This impact is even greater for women of color, women without a college degree, and women living in low-income households.
As schools and child care centers closed, parents struggled to figure out how to manage. The struggle was reportedly worse for single mothers as they had to make difficult decisions between their children and their jobs. As a result, more women than men have been laid off or cut down their working hours to cope with the impacts of COVID-19.
This is true not only because there is an expectation for women to be the primary caregiver of the family, but also because they are paid less in general. This means that their job, unfortunately more often than not, is not the main source of the family’s income. Which leads to the men of the household having priority of keeping their jobs throughout the pandemic. Moreover, the Washington Post reported that women lost more jobs in comparison to men because women are more likely to be found working in restaurants, hair salons, hotels, and retail stores – the industries that were impacted the most.
Can women really have it all?
As Samantha Bee says, although we may still be adjusting to the new normal, one thing we learned for sure is the answer to “media’s favorite asinine question”:
Can women have it all?
Questions like “How do you balance work and home?” and “Can women have it all?” have been asked in countless interviews and the media in general. These would obviously never be asked to a man since society does not expect men to care for children, cook, or clean the house. The fact that women are obligated to “do it all” is why the question of whether women can “have it all” exists in the first place.
These types of questions only reinforce the patriarchal notion that a woman’s primary duty is to tend to the house and her career is just an added personal choice that she took upon herself. As a consequence, she just has to do it all. By continuing to ask these questions, we’re silently implying that it will forever be the responsibility of the woman of the house to complete all household chores on top of her chosen career.
I think we can all agree that asking “Can women have it all?” is blatantly sexist and very outdated.
What is a ‘she-cession’?
The repercussions of this pandemic are said to set women back decades in the progress that has been made thus far. According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, women’s labor force participation has plummeted to levels we haven’t seen in 30 years! In fact, the economic recession that resulted because of COVID-19 is being called a “she-cession” since women have taken the brunt of the negative effects. This is very saddening especially because women outnumbered men in the American workforce in December 2019.
Throughout my research, I saw many articles and studies referring to the pandemic as having a “disproportionate” impact on women. The problem isn’t that the pandemic affected women disproportionately. It’s that our society was already built with inequalities that put women at a disadvantage. The global pandemic is only highlighting the issues we already know about. Problems that have existed and been ignored for several years are simply coming to light as a result of COVID-19. I guess that’s one good thing this pandemic has done for us.
What does the ‘she-covery’ entail?
Now that these inequalities have been acknowledged, it’s time we start demanding change. We need governments to realize the importance of creating solutions to help women re-join the labor force. Plans are in the works to make back the progress we lost.
Here are some things that need to be enforced as a part of the ‘she-covery’:
- Employers should implement strategies to offer more flexibility for their workers. This can include arrangements for four-day workweeks and flexible hours.
- The American government needs to make it a priority to ensure parents have safe and affordable access to child care. For example, providing a benefit to families with children would help parents. With the benefit, they could afford a babysitter or some other form of child care while they go to work.
- Companies need to make more of an effort to hire women. Women belong in all types of industries, not just restaurants, hair salons, hotels, and retail stores.
- We need more initiatives such as SheEO, to encourage and financially support female entrepreneurship.