Women Mean Business
HR & Employment Law
| March 8, 2021
By: Vasundhra Sangar
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives over the past year. One of its major impacts has been the toll it has taken on women in the workforce.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, women made up slightly more than 50 percent of the American workforce, which makes sense given they are slightly more than half of the population. In the last 12 months, however, 5.4 million women have experienced pandemic-related job loss and nearly 3 million have left the labor force entirely.
The impact of the pandemic on women in Massachusetts has been worse than the national average. Women’s workforce participation rates in Massachusetts slipped by an entire decade in 2020, bringing women back where they were at the end of the Great Recession in 2009.
Women are critical to the Massachusetts economy and they mean business. We are thus presented with both a crisis and an opportunity.
As we progress through 2021, business must improve the way it responds to the needs of the entire workforce, particularly the female workforce. As state and national economies work to regain pre-pandemic levels of growth, AIM believes businesses must take a direct role in addressing the diminished workforce by examining workplace policy gaps that allow existing talent, resources, and profitability to fall through in the first place.
How did we get here? Widespread business, school, and day-care closures have exposed antiquated child-care and caregiving perceptions so deeply ingrained in our culture it took a nationwide economic exodus for them to reach center stage. The number of women leaving the state workforce increased in the fall of 2020 as a result of the introduction of remote and hybrid schooling.
The outdated child-care perceptions that pushed women from the labor market are the same expectations that keep some women out of the workforce entirely and others still earning less on average than male colleagues. Bringing women, and caregivers in general, back to work and creating an environment adaptable enough to keep them working is necessary for the economy to bounce back at an adequate level and pace.
If it can be argued that many women picked up roles at home during remote learning because male partners earned more in their positions, it can also be asked why and how this narrative can still apply so broadly to American families 20 years into the twenty-first century, especially as recent studies claim the national gross domestic product could be up to 5 percent higher if women had the chance to participate in the labor force at the same rate as men.
AIM’s recent Boston Globe op-ed, Pink Slip: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women in the Workforce in the Commonwealth, adds to this data and encourages businesses to address barriers that exist for working women and caregivers overall. The op-ed lays out potential steps for businesses struggling to retain or rehire workforces on the other side of the pandemic, such as providing advancement steps for caregivers who have been on leave rather than penalizing them for having to make that decision.
Additional actions businesses can implement to support equity in the workforce and strengthen the value of women include:
- Supporting job applicants who may have a gap in their resumes due to raising children; allowing applicants to explain other skills they may have obtained such as time management, focus and resilience;
- Providing child-care vouchers to assist with the cost of regular or emergency childcare;
- Considering on-site childcare even if provided through a group of companies in close proximity, allowing parents to visit children at breaks and not have to end work early to reach a childcare site before closing.
- Allowing flex-time schedules (7-3, 8-4, 9-5 or 10-6, for example) under which an employee may choose to work within their caregiving demands.
- Providing female-led and minority-led mentorship programs to support and promote the advancement of underrepresented groups in the workplace.
- Supplementing home-office costs such as Internet service to level the playing field so employees might be successful in a remote environment.
Creating an economy strong and adaptable enough to prevent workforce losses such as those we’ve seen with COVID from occurring in the future will require creativity, flexibility, and a long-term commitment to productive change on behalf of employers as well as policymakers.
As Massachusetts prepares to turn the page on the coronavirus pandemic and its unprecedented chapter in modern history, the business community would be remiss to ignore the responsibility within this rare window to introduce real change.
Join AIM on March 18 from 11 am – noon for an online discussion of Pink Slip: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women in the Workplace in Massachusetts. Participants include Colleen Ammerman, Director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School; Robert Lewis, Jr., Founder and President, The Base; Paige Fetzer-Borelli, Lead, Corporate and Community Affairs at Dell Technologies; and Brooke Thomson, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for AIM. Register