How COVID-19 Has Affected Women at Work

2020 brought an incredible amount of setbacks for the world of work. On top of dealing with the pandemic itself, the US faced historic job loss, job growth stagnation, and a reckoning with the lack of equality in and out of the workplace. With March being Women’s History Month, we wanted to take time to explore how this past year will go down in the history books for its effect on women at work.

How COVID-19 Has Affected Women at Work

Prior to COVID-19 hitting the States and despite great strides, women still faced a lack of equality at work. 

  • White women are paid 81 cents for every dollar a man makes and that difference increases for women of color. (Source)
  • The United States is the only OECD country without federally secured paid maternity, paternity, or parental leave. (Source)
  • 35% of women in full-time corporate sector jobs have reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. That number goes up for women in leadership, lesbian women, and women in technical fields. (Source)
  • The opportunity gap continues to hold women back from leadership positions at many major companies. (Source)

And that was just prior to COVID. Let’s look at how the effects of the pandemic have hit women at work.

Job Loss

In 2020, women lost more jobs than men, with Black and Latina women being hit hardest. According to CNN, “Women ended 2020 with 5.4 million fewer jobs than they had in February, before the pandemic began. Meanwhile, men lost 4.4 million jobs over that same time period.” According to the same article, women accounted for all of the 140,000 cut jobs in December 2020.

Many industries, particularly those that are often low-wage with high customer interaction, that were vastly affected by COVID-19 are fueled by women, particularly women of color. When those industries were hit, it is the women on staff that are hit hardest.

Inequality in Caretaking

Prior to COVID, women were overwhelmingly responsible for the emotional labor, caretaking, and domestic labor that happens in life. In an informal poll, Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play, found that women were overwhelmingly responsible for the cognitive labor of household tasks. Breaking that down, women are doing about 4 hours of household labor while men are doing 2.5.

That trend didn’t disappear when COVID hit. In fact, the problem got worse.

With child care centers closing, working mothers were hit once more:

“Study after study has shown that in response to school, child care, and camp closings, as well as reduced hours and reduced class sizes, significantly more women than men have reduced their work hours, left work to care for children, and spent more time on education and household tasks.”


While the effects of COVID are hitting every single person’s household work, women, and in particular women of color, are disproportionately affected.

Job Satisfaction

In 2020, women were 1.3X more likely to consider leaving their jobs than men. If women leave at that rate, America could lose over 2 million women in the workforce. 

In addition to the numerous other systemic barriers they face, Black women also are more likely to report feeling less supported by their managers.

Companies are taking incredible steps to support all of their employees, but many companies are missing out on adjusting their expectations of their employees.

“Less than a third of companies have adjusted their performance review criteria to account for the challenges created by the pandemic, and only about half have updated employees on their plans for performance reviews or their productivity expectations during COVID-19.”


How Companies Can Help

There are very few problems in the world without solutions. Take some time this month to build a game plan of how to better support the women in your workplace.

First things first, you need to understand how your team currently stands when it comes to diversity recruiting. Get all of the details in our report, The Current State of Diversity Recruiting.

Prioritize Equity

We’ve gone over the definition of equity before, but when it comes to women at work it becomes critical. Equitable treatment of women means understanding and respecting the different life situations that they bring to work each day. Equity brings proportional representation to the needs of an individual based on their needs and their needs alone. It doesn’t force anyone to meet expectations that are impossible for them, but instead caters the support to their particular needs.

Providing genuine support on a personal level will show your team members that they are valued.

Make Flexibility a Top Benefit

While this will overwhelmingly support women during COVID times, flexibility is becoming one of the most sought after benefits for all workers. What can your team do to provide flexibility to your existing employees or for the jobs that you’re hiring for?

If you can have a conversation with hiring managers about how providing flexibility will bring in more qualified candidates, do it! 

If you’re wanting to make changes internally, work with your employees to talk over what sort of flexibility they need. Whether it’s shifting the work schedule around or providing days off for mental health breaks, being flexible shows how you value your employees as people and it will certainly lead to less stress and higher job satisfaction.

Adjust Expectations Where Appropriate

What sort of productivity expectations do you have for your team? Women are likely not hitting the same productivity goals they were pre-COVID and that’s okay! Bringing compassion to productivity expectations is an excellent way to value employees and prevent burnout.

Work individually with the women on your team to define what goals are attainable and how they can be better supported by the company or by leadership. If you’re coming up on annual reviews, it’s a great time to go over KPIs and create a new professional development plan to account for the changes this past year has brought.

As with the long-term health effects of COVID-19, there are many unknowns when it comes to the long-term workplace effects. Until time passes we’ll not know for sure just how extensively women at work have been affected. For now, we can be certain that the aftermath of COVID will involve doing all we can to support women at work in order to regain some of the losses that they have faced.

Don't stop now. Keep reading!

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