The COVID-19 Impact on Women in the Workforce
The coronavirus has necessitated huge changes to the way businesses around the world are operating during the pandemic.
Many women entrepreneurs, managers, CEOs and directors have shifted on the fly. Forbes featured profiles of women who adapted their business models and operations so they could continue to run their businesses, support their employees, and keep their communities safe. Many women leaders in business have led with strong examples of how to make smart business decisions with compassion.
Unfortunately, many business owners have also had to make the hard decision to cease operating during the pandemic. That is a tough call to make, and it is admirable to see business owners, regardless of gender, choose to put the safety of their family, staff, and community above profits. It’s been inspiring to see the strength of female leaders in the midst of COVID-19.
COVID-19 Disproportionately Affects Women in the Workforce
While we’ve seen plenty of positive innovation in the business community, many women are not getting a chance to make choices about their work during the pandemic. The lockdown on travel has hit women hard. Women make up a huge percentage of the workforce in the travel and hospitality industry, as flight attendants, cooks, cleaners, and servers. Most of the retail workforce is also women, and with stores operating on reduced hours or closed entirely, many women have lost their jobs.
Around the world, most social care and health related positions (70%) are still held by women. Women in healthcare, and working in critical businesses like drug stores, grocery stores, and foodservice are struggling even more. Women make up the majority of part-time and minimum-wage employees in Canada. With schools and childcare businesses forced to close, many of these women are essentially forced to stay home. It could be because they’re a single parent and don’t have access to family members that can provide childcare. But it's also frequently because women’s salaries are lower, and families with dual incomes will most frequently prioritize the work of the higher salaried partner.
Women are being disproportionately affected financially by COVID-19. This means that women in the workforce are facing even greater challenges right now than they did pre-COVID. This has many talking about the need for a “shecovery” as part of the economic recovery effort underway.
In Canada, more than 6 in 10 positions lost due to COVID-19 were held by women, according to information from Statistics Canada. Resources like food banks that support many struggling women and their families are also under extra pressure.
Recognizing this, one state in particular has responded with a recovery plan that highlights gender equity. COVID-19 has affected the state of Hawai’i deeply. The pandemic has highlighted just how undervalued caregiving has been in the past, and how the majority of that burden has been shouldered by women. The state has acknowledged that these traditional stereotypes have done great harm to residents of Hawai’i, and have perpetuated inequality in the economy. In response, the state has developed a COVID recovery plan with a distinctly feminist lens. The recovery plan will not just help the economy recover, it will help the economy grow and strengthen even more, by providing equitable opportunities for everyone, and placing a high value on caregiving work. The plan is also designed to be easily adapted for other states that wish to develop a similar plan. This is the first economic recovery plan that has focused on gender equity to solve economic and social problems while also building a stronger economy.
Some women will experience insurmountable challenges and permanent career disruption due to COVID-19. After the Ebola outbreak of 2014, men’s income returned to pre-Ebola levels faster than women’s did in the affected countries.
We Need Market Intelligence to Support Women in the Workforce
When women join the workforce, the whole community benefits. Closing the gender gap could improve national GDP by as much as 35 points in some countries. What’s clear is that getting women back to work, and giving them room to succeed, is going to be critical to the rebuilding of economies in a post-COVID world.
As we start to rebuild, it's important to use the market intelligence available to us to make sure that women have opportunities in our communities. We need to find ways to support women in the workforce. There is plenty of evidence to show that closing the gender gap is an economic positive for everyone involved. Diversity in our local economies is just as important as it is on a national scale.
Market intelligence can help us find the gaps in our local economies, and identify opportunities to close them - whether that’s by promoting education programs, improving access to childcare, or offering support specifically to female businesses.
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