By Alison Gerardot, Vice President of Philanthropic Services & Women’s Fund Coordinator
This COVID-19 pandemic recession is being called a “shecession,” and for good reason. According to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), in December 2020, women accounted for all of the jobs lost. In actuality, 111% of jobs were lost. While the U.S. economy lost a net 140,000 jobs at the end of last year, women lost 156,000 jobs overall during the month, while men gained 16,000 jobs.
While the 1970’s marked the start of “mancession” periods in industries that are predominantly male such as construction, the current “shecession” is disproportionately affecting female dominated industries such as hospitality and retail. While the stress of the recession is being felt across everyone, women of color are especially feeling the burden. Black and Latina women who predominantly work in retail, hospitality such as hotels and other “essential” service-sector industries, often for lower pay, have been laid off in droves amid the pandemic’s lockdowns and business closures. Even more challenging is that very few Black and Latina women have the option of working from home. The Women and Girl’s Study of Greater Fort Wayne identified that 23% of Allen County working women have no paid time off – pairing this with any childcare or caregiving crisis, these women may be forced to leave the workforce entirely.
With 75% of working-age women in Allen County at work in February 2020, one year later with a pandemic underway and the worst global economic downturn since The Great Depression, we have to ask ourselves what this kind of recession will do to our local economy.
While less-educated workers, and those who have jobs that can’t be done from home have faced higher unemployment as a result of the pandemic, this doesn’t exclude senior-level women from feeling many of the burdens of the pandemic as well. According to the McKinsey and Leanin annual Women in the Workplace study, senior-level women are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to consider reducing their hours or dropping out of the workforce entirely. This stress is due to burnout associated with not only working their normal “double shift” – a full day of work, followed by hours of caring for their families and household labor – but with supports that no longer exist including school and childcare. For women of color in the workplace, add on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community as well as the emotional toll of national civil unrest and violence.
With 71% of working women in Allen County annually making less than $50k and a regional goal to increase per capita personal income to 90% of the national average, what does it look like when a large section of our workforce leaves the workforce entirely? And if, when they are able to go back to work, they are not able to be rehired in the same positions at the same pay rates as when they left the workforce?
While employers aren’t responsible for the hardships that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, they can play an important role in helping our local economy recover more quickly. Here are some recommendations to consider:
- Allow for greater flexibility. Long gone are the days of traditional 9 to 5, 40 hours-per-week jobs. When they are able, employers can allow for their employees to work from home and allow them to set their own schedules. If employers begin to look at the value that an employee creates for them alongside strong performance evaluations, rather than the hours an employee works, overall productivity and employee retention will increase.
- Allowing employees to ‘turn off.’ While most employers would agree that they never encourage their employees to always be working, a company’s unspoken culture can say just as much. An employer can encourage managers to not answer emails after an agreed upon time such as evenings and weekends. If that’s when managers choose to work those hours, set 24 hour email policy that allows employees to respond to all emails within a day, rather than feeling the pressure or guilt to respond to a manager or peer immediately.
- Allowing low–wage and hourly employees paid time off. Employers can shift policies to allow for low-wage, hourly employees to have paid time off not only for themselves but extending PTO to care for loved ones. During a pandemic, many employees are forced to stay home not only due to their own personal illness but for quarantine of themselves, their loved ones or for caregiving responsibilities.
- Post the pay range for positions on your job postings. As the economy begins to recover and employers are looking to re-hire, consider publicly posting the pay range for the positions you are hiring for. This will not only set clear expectations for candidates but will save an employer staff time. Interviews will not be wasted on candidates whose salary expectations do not align with a certain range. It will also empower candidates to reasonably negotiate during the hiring process.
While we can hope that this global catastrophic event has eventual positive ramifications for women in the workforce such as World War II did in normalizing female participation in the workforce, everyone will need to play a part. If employers step up now to act as a support for all of their employees, especially women, we as a region stand to benefit on the road to recovery.