The Impacts of 2020 on Women: How do we approach 2021?
COVID-19 cases continue to surge and our political climate is contentious at best. At times, it’s hard to believe all that has happened this year, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to figure out that we are living in a time that will go down in history.
What will we take away? What will be the moral of the story? I think it is still unfolding, but one thing is for sure, the economic impacts of COVID-19, the death of the trailblazing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and both the results and tribulations of the recent U.S Presidential election will leave a lasting impression on our country.
Women in the workforce, in particular, are feeling and will continue to feel the economic impacts of the events of 2020 into 2021.
The global coronavirus pandemic came sweeping in unapologetically to change life as we know it, resulting in both a public health crisis and an economic crisis in the United States, leaving women particularly vulnerable to workplace barriers.
And on top of that, what I call the Silver CeilingSM is alive and well, with COVID exacerbating the workplace barriers related to aging. As early as April, AARP employment data indicated the threat to the careers and earning power of women over the age of 55 due to the COVID-19 economic impacts. Unemployment for women over 55 peaked in April with 15.5% out of work.
A study by The New School found this especially concerning for those close to retirement who anticipated having more time to accrue savings. Age discrimination may also be at play, notes Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. Such regulations have not been as tightly enforced during this period, and employers may be taking advantage to let go of their older, and sometimes higher-earning, employees.
Then, between August and September, 216,000 men and 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics September jobs report. That’s four times more women than men!
And in December, employers cut 140,000 more jobs, according to recent data reported by CNN Business. Women lost a net 156,000 jobs, as men gained 16,000! But such job loss was not felt equally across the board. There were some gains made by white women in the labor force, while primarily Black and Latina women lost their jobs toward the end of the year.
Why are so many more women in the workforce dropping out than men? Why is the economic impact felt so significantly? You could say it’s a culmination of factors.
One reason is that certain job sectors – those without paid sick leave or the option to work from home – employ mostly women. (It is important to note that disproportionate numbers of women of color work in the most precarious sectors with the fewest safety nets.) Jobs without sick leave or remote access are much less forgiving, and much less flexible, explains C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research: “[When] women can’t come to work because of caregiving responsibilities — they have to exit the workforce.”
Another explanation lies in the stability of the occupation itself. Women comprise most of the employees in industries that have been closed or have suffered massive cuts due to COVID: specifically education, hospitality, and retail. Few measures have been taken to protect the economic welfare of these working women.
Yet it’s fair to ask, should we even be that surprised? Women started on uneven ground with workplace barriers. We’ve made shaky progress after years of fighting for equality, inclusion, and equity, but the economic gender gap continues to be omnipresent. For those of us women age forty-plus, we’ve always been bumping into the invisible, and now quite visible Silver CeilingSM!
No surprise that even before COVID changed our world, according to Census Bureau data analyzed by the American Association of University Women, women working full time in the United States made an average 20 cents less, per dollar, than did men. A bellwether, the gap in wages increases over the course of a woman’s career and is widest for women ages 55–64, estimated at just 75 cents for every dollar, likely as a result of the compounded long-term effects of direct and indirect bias and workplace barriers based on gender conflated with age. And as we move into retirement, women still feel the effect of those years of earning less, which results in less paid into social security, pension, and retirement funds over time.
So, women already started out less financially secure on average. As Time magazine recently noted, careers and industries – including elective healthcare, childcare, housekeeping, and other service industry positions traditionally dominated by women – have been especially vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
You’d think it might be better for women with white collar desk jobs who can work from home, but that’s where the unpaid labor of women comes into play. For centuries, women have carried the bulk of caregiver responsibilities and just as we start to see men taking on more of that responsibility, we’ve taken a step back as one in four women in the workforce are considering reducing work hours, moving to part-time roles, switching to less demanding jobs, taking leaves of absence from work, or stepping away from the workforce altogether, according to a study recently published by McKinsey & Co. and Lean In.
Due to closures of daycare programs and the new paradigm of online classes, working mothers are now confronted with perpetual childcare and assisting in their children’s schooling like never before. Women with grown children or no children are not immune to the impact as care of their parents and elder family members continues to fall disproportionately on their shoulders.
While the Wall Street Journal reported in February that women still only make up 6 percent of CEOs in our country’s top companies (or 167 of 3000 to put it into perspective), even women in executive roles (think vice president level) shared with McKinsey and Lean In that they were considering a step back in their careers to better care for children or other family members.
Meanwhile, on the frontlines it is mostly women who are battling COVID-19 head-on, composing almost 70% of the healthcare workforce. And while that is something to be proud of, it should also be noted that this means they are experiencing a higher risk of infection while they remain under-represented in leadership and decision-making processes in the health care sector.
And then we lost RBG!
While not related to the pandemic (thank God), I think we all felt the devastating loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and what it may mean for women’s full equality, inclusion and equity – and that means losing our right to sit at the table. From gender discrimination and workplace barriers to women’s health to voting rights, Justice Ginsburg brought us forward. It was enough to make even the most powerful of women feel discouraged and worried for the future.
Then along came Kamala Harris, and just in time! As the first female VP, Harris will continue to be a role model for women, especially young women of color, in the coming years. And what a breath of fresh air to watch our new Second Family embrace the achievement, with VP Harris’ husband proudly taking the title of Second Gentleman.
Even with our progress, racial inequality is still one of the most serious problems we in the United States have to address, and the business sector is not exempt. While some huge strides have been taken this year, it is more important now than ever to show up for businesswomen from minority backgrounds. They boast some incredible achievements!
Women of color start businesses at a remarkable 4.5 times the rate of all businesses. This has a considerable impact on the creation of new small businesses every year, notes BusinessWire. We could all use good news like this, and with it, a reinvigorated drive for a truly equitable marketplace.
Another incredible fact: 21% of all women-owned firms are owned by Black women. In fact, as Black women comprise approximately 13.7% of all women in the U.S., they’re actually overrepresented among all women-owned businesses – and there is a clear pattern of success!
Despite the prevalence of Black women in business, however, the payoff they see is not quite up to par. In 2020, “Although over 50% of women-owned businesses [were those of] women of color, they only brought in 422 billion dollars in revenue vs white women-owned businesses who brought in 1.4 trillion dollars in revenue,” Forbes reports. Amending this statistic will require awareness and solidarity on all our parts.
While such a disparity can seem daunting to address, it is important as ever to keep up with this knowledge. Businesswomen from minority backgrounds are facing a multitude of current pressures. Every piece of information aids in the impact we can have – to bring all women forward and up, together! Focusing on ways to support businesses that serve important social goals, especially small businesses, is essential to closing the gap of inequality.
For those of us choosing to take on the role of forerunner, it is vital to explore the bounds of innovation while remaining open to inspiration from all avenues, and to combine profit with purpose, creativity with collaboration, and consumer value with our core values.
Where do we go from here?
My advice to women in 2021, especially those women in the workforce experiencing the impacts of ageism or racism as well as sexism, is to focus on what you can control and to embrace inspiration.
We can’t change the fact that a global pandemic has thrown a wrench into our lives, but we can reevaluate our futures and make a forward-looking plan.
Someone recently asked me if there were any benefits to our shift to a virtual world, and my answer was a resounding YES! In the virtual world we can launch . We are only as limited as our own imaginations.
If we are present to the moment and every moment, there are messengers and symbols that come towards us and show up and we have to pay attention. Before COVID, we were running around distracted. Most of us did not see, hear, or pay attention to signs surrounding us. We now need to follow the messengers that the universe is sending to us.
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way: Never forget about YOU. Remember to allocate time for yourself, because when the well is dry, you can’t quench yours or anyone else’s thirst. Ask yourself routinely: What’s the next stage I would like to attain in each domain and each relationship in my world? What pivots could I make? Which ideals and goals could I re-center around?
And so, while times are shaky and the future is uncertain for so many, I believe there is promise and possibility ahead, but you must embrace the potential of your personal and professional vision to get from where you are now to where you want to end up. This moment of flux brings new openings too.
Bottom line: Reimagine what you really, truly want! Then go for it like your life depends on it, cause it does!
Even with everything that hit us in 2020, moving into 2021, we decline to be discouraged. Remember, in the immortal words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “So often in life, things that you regard as impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.”