The Disproportionate Effects of Covid-19 on Women in the Workforce

Effects of Covid-19 on Women

As unemployment numbers soar and continue to shatter records during the coronavirus pandemic, women in the workforce seem to be at the center of Covid-19’s economic effects. First, women in the workforce are being affected by layoffs at a much greater rate than men, the opposite effect from what we saw with workforce layoffs during the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession. Second, the new school season has had a shaky start with frequent setbacks from clusters of viral outbreaks. Despite strides toward gender equality in the workforce and at home, the burdens of childcare and oversight of child education seem to remain squarely on women.

Pandemic-Fueled Job Losses Hit Women Hardest

Job sectors that had a predominance of women workers, such as hospitality, daycare, education, and leisure industries, experienced some of the hardest unemployment hits this spring, when millions watched their jobs disappear. These unprecedented rates of job loss have taken a heavy economic toll – the double-digit unemployment rate that women are experiencing is the first of its kind since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began including gender as part of reporting data in 1948.

Workforce Gains for Women are Facing a Rollback

Job market analysts, economists, and even the United Nations are concerned that a loss of nearly a decade of employment progress for women in just a matter of months because of the pandemic could further set back the movement for gender equality.

Labor experts around the world have expressed concern that despite states reopening, women‑dominated sectors like leisure and education will be sluggish to start because of quarantine and social-distancing restrictions. Reduced hours also means lower earnings and opportunities for tips that many women workers depend on within these industries. Additionally, many low-wage workers, who are disproportionately women, face fewer chances for rehiring opportunities.

Coronavirus Impact on Women in the Workforce by the Numbers

Prior to the pandemic, women held the majority of jobs in health and education services. However, recent employment rebounds in these fields have seen slow returns to the workforce because of additional childcare and household responsibilities that are expected of women. The disproportionate impact on women working retail jobs is apparent as well with nearly 60 percent of job losses in this type of field affecting women employees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in June that 11% of women over 20 are currently without work. The jobless rate for women has grown faster than the jobless rate for men in the same industries and age group, whereas women had a lower jobless rate prior to the pandemic. Now, the statistic for women without work is a percentage point higher than men’s jobless rate, which is at 10%.

The pandemic has shown that familial expectations of women in the caregiver role and its economic effects on women still exist with resounding statistical significance and can readily hold back or even eliminate career opportunities for those who have to maintain online schooling, provide child care, or assistance for elderly family members.

A New Renaissance for Women Ahead?

Many women’s groups are seeing the current unemployment disparities for women as an opportunity to promote change to corporate structure. Some companies are instituting re-skill programs and allowing more flexible work scheduling that would allow some of those women who are expected to manage the increased family workload from pandemic closures of childcare and educational services to remain part of the workforce.

While businesses clearly see the effects that Covid-19 has had on their bottom lines, it is vital that these businesses also understand these economic impacts that women are facing and continually assess, revise, and adapt how they support the women in their workforce.

Article Co-Authored By: Grace Starling

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Kathy Harrington Sullivan is a Partner at Barrett & Farahany. Kathy helps potential clients understand the law, clarify their rights, and determine which steps they can take to protect themselves and their jobs. She believes knowledge is power and that is why she and her team of lawyers strive to empower employees who think they are victims of illegal workplace actions.

Responsiveness is a hallmark of Kathy's law practice. Clients feel that they are heard and receive personal attention from her and her team during what can be a difficult time.

Kathy is also a registered nurse and a registered patent attorney and practiced in both areas for many years. In 2015, upon joining Barrett & Farahany, Kathy realized that employment law was where she could apply her compassion and desire to help people.

Kathy applies her dedication and compassion to her volunteer work, as well. She has been involved in a number of volunteer organizations throughout her legal career, including the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF), Atlanta Legal Aid Society, the CARA Pro Bono Asylum/Immigration Project, and the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers (GAWL).

Kathy earned her law degree from Mercer University School of Law. Additionally, she has a B.S. with Highest Honors in Electrical & Computer Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Nursing from Georgia College. She is a trained Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) investigator and is a mediator registered with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution. Kathy has mediated numerous court cases, including civil cases, divorce and child custody cases, and juvenile delinquency and deprivation cases.


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