Women’s History Month — and the ‘Shecession’

A woman factory worker on the job. (Photo: SritanaN, via Shutterstock)

2020 was a rough year for everyone, but was especially difficult for women.

In America, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shutdowns set back years of progress women have made to be recognized as equals in the workforce.

March is Women’s History Month and as we honor the women who stood up for our rights and freedoms, we must reflect on how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women.

Since the start of the pandemic a year ago, nearly 3 million U.S. women have dropped out of the labor force as they assume caretaking and homeschooling duties.

Last March, when schools locked students out of the classroom and daycares shut their doors, the progress women had been making in the workforce came to a screeching halt.

Prior to the pandemic, women consisted of more than 50% of the country’s workforce, underlining their importance to the economy and the great strides we’ve made in the last century when just 5 percent of married women were employed.

With kids stuck at home, many working parents were forced to make a choice:

  1. Keep working and leave their kids at home alone to navigate remote learning by themselves
  2. Attempt to work from home with constant interruptions from their kids struggling with remote learning
  3. Quit their job and focus on teaching and caring for their kids

Millions of parents attempted to work from home, but for too many, it felt like a second full-time job monitoring their children to ensure they log into class, tutor them, answer questions, provide social interaction, and fill in the gaps where remote learning simply doesn’t suffice.

Without a doubt, this burden has fallen disproportionately on women, many who have been forced to quit their jobs to ensure their children can engage in remote learning and don’t fall further behind.

Prior to COVID, women reentering the workforce already struggled to fight stigmas about career gaps when they took time off for raising a child, and couple that with the fact that women still make less money than their male counterparts. But now, the pandemic has made the situation much worse for women.

Since the start of the pandemic a year ago, nearly 3 million U.S. women have dropped out of the labor force as they assume caretaking and homeschooling duties. This dramatic decline of women in the workforce has been referred to as a ‘shecession’ – a recession affecting women. In a recent CBS Evening News interview, President Joe Biden called the sudden loss of women in the workforce a “national emergency.”

But that’s not all.

Throughout the pandemic, women are reporting higher rates of anxiety and depression than men, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey. And, a United Nations policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on women, found that more women are being forced to stay at home with their abusers.

There’s no question the pandemic exacerbated the existing gender, socioeconomic and racial inequities, as well as hurt the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of mothers and their children.

The only way to prevent further damage is to urgently reopen our public schools for in-person learning at all grade levels, in a full day model, and encourage women back into the workforce before they – and their children – fall even further behind.

As employers, we have a responsibility to do our part too. Soon, COVID infections will decline, vaccinations will increase and the economy will fully reopen. Businesses must seek to actively recruit and rehire the women who were forced to quit their jobs or lost their jobs amid the pandemic and be willing to pay them at the same level they pay their male counterparts. We can’t let the nightmare of 2020 continue to haunt women and eat away the progress women worked so hard to make.

Editor’s Note: Rachel Michelin is the president of the California Retailers Association and the former CEO of California Women Lead, California’s largest nonpartisan association of women leaders.

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