During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were adversely impacted by business and school closures, highlighting a level of gender inequality that must be addressed in the post-pandemic era.
With the COVIOD-19 pandemic beginning to show signs of waning, especially as vaccination efforts ramp up, what will the recovery look like? Will it bring changes to gender inequality? It’s no secret that women have taken more of a hit than men when it comes to the workplace, and some experts are beginning to worry that many of the women who were laid off or stepped away from work to help with their children’s virtual school may not return to the workplace anytime soon.
Since the start of the pandemic, an estimated 3 million women have left their jobs for one reason or another. It’s a shocking turn of events after years spent where women were beginning to make up a larger percentage of the working population. In fact, pre-COVID, there were more women in the workforce than men.
When COVID hit, businesses were forced to shutter, workforces were downsized, and children were forced into virtual learning environments. Many of the jobs hardest hit were in industries with large female workforces, and often times it was the mom who stepped away from work to help their children with school or simply care for their children as the few spots in daycare facilities filled up quickly. While women working in lower-wage industries were certainly negatively affected, even women working in higher-wage industries were hit by the economic toll of the pandemic. For example, many women working in the tech field are more likely to be in positions that are more expendable, so as businesses adjusted to the new normal of COVID life and cut positions, it often meant given female employees a pink slip.
All in all, the pandemic made clear the inequalities that exist between men and women in the workplace, and it’s too early to say whether the post-pandemic era will bring about changes to remedy that fact. What will the long-term implications be, though? What does this mean for the future of women in the workplace?
For starters, it means women’s voices won’t be heard as much in certain industries for a while. For example, John Souza, CEO of Kingsland University said that when it comes to tech, “having women’s voices heard is critical for what actually happens behind the scenes, which innovations are created, and the thinking behind technology.” He added:
“Tech jobs are projected to be the top source of wage growth in the U.S….There’s never been a more critical time to make the tech field accessible to women. Alarmingly, most technology innovations are informed by male perspectives. Bringing more women into tech jobs will foster a greater diversity of perspectives to innovations and to the industry overall, which will inevitably lead to improved offerings and forward progress.”
There are likely to be implications for the women who managed to remain in the workplace as well. Nancy Wang, the founder and CEO of Advancing Women in Tech said that “gender diversity really impacts the perception of career mobility.” Simply put, when women see other women succeeding in the workplace, it instills a sense of confidence as opposed to working in a male-dominated workplace with few women in positions of power and leadership. Wang said studies show that “male-dominated workplaces led women to lack of confidence in their promotion…Clearly, the more diverse your organization is, the more diverse leadership and representation you are going to have, which then instills more confidence in women and other minorities in your workplace that yes, they have that advancement path or a path upward.”
Susan Faludi, author of the book, ‘Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women,’ also chimed in on the matter and stated bluntly that “Women have been set back decades.”
Stephanie Coontz, a historian and director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, is trying to paint a more hopeful picture. While she acknowledged that the “exodus of women from the workplace will harm the welfare of many families, and even women who get back in the labor force will pay the price in terms of job experience, raises, promotions,” she noted that the situation may help wake some people up. She said:
“If we wake up and do something about it, we could all be better off in the long run, as men have had to notice more of the invisible labor women do and have stepped up their housework and childcare.”