Although women have historically been at a disadvantage in the workplace, women are suffering the effects of the pandemic in shocking ways.
Prior to COVID-19, our economy was already doing a disservice to millions of working women. Nearly half of all working women work in jobs paying low wages, with median earnings of only $10.93 per hour.
The percentage of low-wage workers is higher for Black women (54%) and Latinx women (64%) than it is for white women with 40% working in low-wage jobs. This difference reflects our nation’s ongoing battle with structural racism that has limited options in education, housing and employment for people of color.
While things were bad before, the pandemic only made things worse.
Women have disproportionately accounted for pandemic-related job losses, and we are nearly twice as likely as men to lose our jobs post-pandemic. Women of color experience even higher rates of unemployment and discrimination because of their concentration in low-wage and face-to-face jobs.
One out of four women who became unemployed during the pandemic reported the job loss was due to a lack of child care, twice the rate of men surveyed. In a recent study, Newsweek reported how the pandemic could cost a typical woman in America $600,000 in lifetime income.
McKinsey & Company estimates that centering our recovery efforts on women and taking action now to advance gender equality can grow the GDP by an estimated $13 trillion, or 16%, by 2030. To get there, we need policy solutions that acknowledge families’ need for caregiving not as a luxury, but as an essential, public good.
We can strengthen these supports through comprehensive paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave and safe days for those experiencing domestic violence, fair scheduling and workplace flexibility policies, parity for part-time workers; and equal pay policies that focus on transparency and employer accountability.
COVID-19 has not only disproportionately displaced women out of the workforce, it’s made it harder for women with families to join career advancement training and networking opportunities due to increased hours of child/elder care and/or loss of income, all the while continuing to earn less than men.
This will result in decade’s worth of economic advancement if we don’t intervene.
In addition to implementing policy solutions, we need women to create their own network and learning opportunities.
When I first entered the workplace, it became obvious that networking opportunities were plentiful for my male colleagues but were virtually non-existent for women. Whether it was a round of golf or a bourbon and cigar tasting event, men could enjoy endless opportunities to expand and strengthen their business connections.
For someone like me who hates golf, prefers vodka, and doesn’t particularly enjoy cigars, I was definitely on the outside looking in. Plus, I had children at home who couldn’t wait while I finished schmoozing on the back nine.
For my own career, I took it upon myself to cobble together a network of mentors.
And when I was selected as an executive director, one of my first acts was to call on the strong Native women who also were leading organizations. Together, we created our own informal club, someplace we could share, learn, laugh and build power to create change. I am where I am.
That’s why I was so thrilled last year to become a part of VEST, a private network of women learning with and from each other and committed to building power collectively. VEST creates a space where women can easily interact with other influential women, grow their network, expand their visibility and learn from the experiences of women who blazed the trail for us.
Expediting the number of women in leadership across industries and sectors means women will have more influence over markets, equitable policies and flow of capital. This creates a compounding effect and more equitable workplaces, benefiting not just women, but all Americans.
Ahniwake Rose is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. She is a founding member of VEST, a private network of influential women supporting one another through their career journey and building power collectively to expedite the pipeline of more women in positions of power.