A year into the pandemic and the female workforce is suffering. Women have been leaving the workforce and losing jobs at higher rates than men due to a variety of pandemic-related factors. This departure creates a greater risk that the pay gap will widen and potentially heralds long-term negative effects on gender equity in the workplace.
Consider the facts:
- 275,000 women left the U.S. labor force in January.
- As of that month, a total of 2.3 million women had left the U.S. workforce since the beginning of the pandemic, compared to 1.8 million men
- The percent of adult women either working or looking for work was down below 56% in February, compared to almost 58% prior to the pandemic.
- Median weekly earnings for women were 83.4% that of men in the fourth quarter of 2020.
- In September, women made up 39% of the global workforce but accounted for 54% of overall job losses.
- Since spring 2020, the percentage of working moms who had sole responsibility for childcare and schoolwork increased from 33% to 45%.
- One in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the pressures brought on by the pandemic.
The pandemic has had a disproportionately negative effect on women in both hourly and salaried positions. Two main reasons accounting for this are:
- Job losses are higher in sectors traditionally employing more women (particularly the retail, food services, arts, and social assistance fields, according to Vox).
- Women have taken on a disproportionately larger portion of childcare responsibilities as schools and childcare facilities closed or went virtual.
The Pay Penalty
Women’s departure from the workforce, either by choice or because their position was eliminated, risks widening the pay gap. Women tend to suffer a pay penalty of 7% on average for the same position when returning to work after a prolonged absence, according to a study by Payscale. As women prolong their reentry into the workforce, the risk that they will pay such a penalty as they return to equal jobs only rises.
In its global study on COVID-19 and gender equality, McKinsey & Co. expressed concern that without a concerted effort, the moves toward gender parity in the workforce could be reversed due to the pandemic. This risk affects not only women but also the global economy as a whole, noted McKinsey.
Positive Moves in Washington
While women in the workforce have suffered more than men as a result of the pandemic, the Biden administration is making moves to address the issues of gender equality and the pay gap. In early March, the president signed an executive order establishing a Gender Policy Council. Every cabinet secretary is required to participate with the Council.
Also, in January, Congress again introduced a Paycheck Fairness Act. The Act seeks to increase civil penalties for violations of equal pay provisions and addresses other wage discrimination issues based on sex.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII, and other laws and regulations address harassment and inequality based on gender. At Barrett & Farahany, we are happy to answer any questions about equal pay, policies toward childcare, and other laws primarily affecting women and gender-related issues, particularly in light of COVID-19. If you or anyone you know is looking for answers, please contact us to speak to one of our attorneys.