The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in the workforce are both severe and lopsided in comparison to men. For women of color, who make up a higher percentage of essential workers, job losses are even worse. Addressing this "she-cession" will take a focused effort across sectors: government, business, advocates, and academia must all play a role. And we will need to sustain and fund the effort over time.
On Thursday, April 1, 2021, MAPC invited local leaders in government, research, business, and advocacy to discuss the gap and the policies and practices we can use to address it.
There to give their perspectives were Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka; Boston NAACP President Tanisha Sullivan, Esq.; Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education founding member Saskia Epstein; and researcher and Black Economic Council of Massachusetts member Leslie Forde.
During their discussion and in a Q&A session, the panelists touched on many topics, including how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and how workplace flexibility, worker protections, work culture, childcare, and state policy can help address the root causes of that.
Senate President Spilka cited a recent Boston Globe op-ed, “We can’t afford to let women fall through the economy’s cracks,” that stated that “women in Massachusetts were participating in the workforce at increasing rates, surpassing the national rate by 2019. COVID-19 brought them back to where they were at the end of the Great Recession in 2009.”
“This literally took my breath away,” Spilka said. "A decade of progress, a full decade of progress, built on what has been for so many women a lifetime of progress, is gone, wiped out in the space of one year. That is amazing to me.”
“It’s clear that women in the workplace benefit from flexibility, the use of technology to work remotely, and paid time off to care for themselves and their family members," she said. "We can all play a part to advocate for these workplace policies. We need to make sure that the state government, federal government, businesses do everything that we can together to ensure that women return to work.”
“The virus does not discriminate, but its disproportionate impact cannot be denied and cannot be ignored,” said Sullivan. “The pandemic has reminded us, in many respects, just how fragile our progress in the fight for women’s rights, access, and opportunity actually is. And for BIPOC women and those who are victims of poverty, this reminder has hit with devastating consequences.”
“We have women who are being pushed out of the workforce in addition to the women who are facing the impossible choice of having to leave the workforce because they don’t have childcare,” said Forde, who has been studying the effects of the pandemic on parents for the past year. “Absent paid leave, absent the psychological safety to have these conversations with their managers, they are being put into the impossible position of trying to choose between their solvency and caring for their families. So they are getting pushed out in record numbers from the workforce.”
“Whether or not we lead HR, whether or not we’re in the C-suite, we have the ability to influence change from where we sit, to ensure that our workplaces are equitable and attentive to issues that are affecting vast numbers of women,” said Epstein.