The recent focus on the impact COVID-19 has had on women is devastating, but sadly it is not shocking. We still live in a time when women are being celebrated for breaking the glass ceiling and milestones like being the first. The first female CEO, the first Madam Vice President, the first Black woman, woman of color, the list goes on. In the year 2021, we would not be celebrating these achievements if women have not always faced barriers when it comes to upward trajectory in their careers and society.
When it comes to the workforce, not only have women faced obstacles securing jobs, but once in a job they often must overcome gender-specific challenges that prevent them from advancing their personal and professional goals. According to the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a woman working full-time earned 81.6 cents for every dollar a man working full-time earned on average.
Not only are women generally making less money than men, but when you layer on the fact that they over-index in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, like retail and hospitality, it is no surprise that the unemployment numbers among women are so high. In a two-parent household, it is often the parent making less money that puts his or her career on hold to stay at home with the children. Unfortunately, for cisgender straight couples, this often ends up being the woman. With these factors colliding, women are being forced out of the workforce in droves.
The types of tools and support women are seeking have also changed amid the pandemic. From food and housing insecurity due to job loss and fewer networking opportunities to help them get back to work, women are facing hardship on multiple fronts. Encouragingly, there are ways that organizations can prioritize getting the right tools in women’s hands to help them thrive in work and life – and from my own experiences at Dress for Success, I’ve seen first-hand what the right opportunities and resources can do. As we turn the corner and begin to emerge from this pandemic, it is imperative that we prioritize providing women with the tools and resources they need to get back on their feet.
Here are three ways we can start:
Democratize networking to make it more accessible. Up to 85 percent of jobs are filled by networking and once in a job, women need mentorship and sponsorship to continue to succeed. However, access to networks is a challenge for many women, even in non-pandemic times. Finding networking opportunities are often contingent on where a woman lives, learns, works, and her financial standing. A silver lining of the pandemic is that it has somewhat normalized virtual networking and learning. With people spending more time online, we can take away some of the barriers to networking by building online communities where women can not only grow their professional networks, but also find support and guidance from other women around the world facing similar challenges.
Focus on reskilling and upskilling. Roles in fields that have been traditionally dominated by women were more likely to be eliminated in response to the pandemic. Even as we begin to reopen, there is a real possibility that these jobs will not return and if they do, not in the same numbers as before. We must find ways to offer trainings in skillsets that will be in-demand post-pandemic. Just as our more virtual world has provided ways for women to build online networks, there is an opportunity to curate and facilitate online training programs for women that work within their time and budget constraints.
Harness the power of women supporting women. COVID-19 has ignited women around the world to further champion solutions to support each other every day. Just take Leah Hoyer, Vice President of Creative at Wizards of the Coast; Jill Evanko, President and CEO of Chart Industries; and Ramona Hood, President and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical, three women who are using their learnings around how to succeed in industries historically dominated by men, passions for paying it forward, and action-oriented problem solving skills to change the course for millions of women around the world. These executives are hyper-focused on building the next generation of female leaders across the games, energy, and logistics industries, and much like Dress for Success, they believe advancing women is not only smart for society, but incredibly beneficial for business growth.
These inspiring leaders are not alone in pushing boundaries. There are many women who are helping women succeed. That is why Dress for Success launched 31 Days of Women in Power in honor of International Women’s Day. We will celebrate women leaders throughout March to bring awareness to their inspiring stories of strength, fortitude, and drive to make the world a better place for women.
The impact of women being left out of the workforce due to the pandemic affects us all. To ensure that this trend does not lead to irreversible consequences, we must all come together to do our part and address it head-on.