Women in the Workforce: What Does the Future Hold?

After more than a year of trying to make a living during the pandemic, more and more data is emerging that shows women were more adversely affected than their male colleagues. 

For instance, in their January report, the National Women’s Law Center identified that nearly 2.1 million women left the workforce last year. This included 564,000 Black women and 317,000 Latinas. 

This problem is not isolated to the United States either. According to the global non-profit group Catalyst, women in China, Italy, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom were also 24 percent more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic than men. 

What could be some of the underlying drivers for this mass exodus of women from the labor force, though? 

For one, many of the hardest hit sectors featured majority female workforces. According to the NWLC report, the leisure and hospitality industry, of which women account for 53 percent of the total workforce, suffered 498,000 job losses in December alone. Women accounted for 56 percent of those lost jobs. 

The government sector also features a majority female workforce (57.5 percent). About 45,000 jobs were lost within that vertical in December, with women accounting for 91 percent of them.

And of course, women make up a huge 70 percent majority of server positions within restaurants. While some restaurants have been able to stay afloat by offering takeaway and delivery options, server roles are still few and far between.

Traditional gender roles have also played a part in women leaving the workforce. With no schooling or daycare options available, the burden of childcare fell disproportionately onto women. 

All of these losses could have lingering effects for decades, too. According to the NWLC, more than 40 percent of the 12.1 million women’s jobs lost between February and April of 2020 still have not returned. 

Plus, without structural changes to the childcare system, the US will not be able to achieve strong economic growth or achieve gender equality according to the Center for American Progress. Recent reporting by the non-profit estimates that the cost of mothers leaving the labor force or reducing their work hours in order to provide caretaking responsibilities costs $64.5 billion dollars per year in lost economic activity. 

Additionally, new research and projections from McKinsey and Oxford economists predict that female employment figures may not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. Men, however, are expected to reach the same milestone by just 2022. This discrepancy in workforce rebounds are estimated to cost $1 trillion in reduced global GDP.

While the situation is pretty dire, there are some silver linings to be found. There are steps that organizations can take to promote gender equity in the workplace. Some women are also using the situation to discover their entrepreneurial spirit. 

Take Sara Rhoades, and entrepreneur from Evansville, Indiana. In a recent interview with NPR, she explained how she grew her artisan soap-making businesses from a side-hustle to a brick and mortar boutique. 

Her experience isn’t just anecdotal evidence either. Forbes has recently written about how women are increasingly starting their own businesses including gig work. 

In fact, nearly 60 percent of employers are planning to rely on hiring contingent workers this year, creating a huge market opportunity for freelancers and independent contractors who are highly skilled. 

This could signal a major evolution in the way we look at the workforce. Already, between 2007 and 2018, the number of companies started by Black women grew 163 percent. That kind of explosive growth could be just over the horizon for women in the workforce.