Coronavirus Impacts on Women Employment

Hawaii business women

By: Lokelani Wilder

There are 30,000 more women than men living in Hawaii.  In 2019, there were 227,000 women employed in the state.  This numbers constituted 47 percent of the Hawaiian 2019 work force.  Since early 2020, women around the world have been deeply affected by the pandemic.   The large and small inequalities—both at work and at home—that women face daily have been heightened by the pandemic.  At the beginning of 2020, the representation of women in corporate America was trending—albeit slowly—in the right direction. Between January 2015 and December 2019, the number of women in senior-vice-president positions increased from 23 to 28 percent, and in the C-suite from 17 to 21 percent. Though the numbers were progressing slightly upward, women remain dramatically underrepresented, especially minority women.

Pre-pandemic research has never shown women opt out of the workforce at higher rates than men.  We saw the reverse in fact.  In every year through 2019, the average overall attrition rate for companies (percentage of employees leaving) was even slightly higher for men than for women.  The pandemic however had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment. Now, one in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers versus one in five men. While all women have been impacted, three major groups have experienced some of the largest challenges: working mothers, women in senior management positions, and minority women.  This disparity comes across as particularly stark with parents of kids under ten: the rate at which women in this group were considering leaving was ten percentage points higher than for men.  Women in heterosexual dual-career couples who have children also reported larger increases in their time spent on household responsibilities since the pandemic began.

Despite companies’ efforts to support employees during the crisis, women are feeling more exhausted, burned out, and under pressure than men.  This suggests that companies need to do more to adjust the norms and expectations that lead to these feelings.  Employees everywhere report myriad pandemic-related challenges, from lack of advancement opportunities and stalled growth, to loss of connectivity and belonging with colleagues—all on top of serious physical and mental health concerns stemming from the pandemic. Women in emerging economies and small businesses are struggling even more, reporting greater challenges and feeling them more acutely than are female workers in developed economies and established companies.

Automation and digitization trends accelerated during the pandemic, further complicating the gender-parity situation. As the economy re-emerges from the pandemic, women’s path to reentry and reengagement in the workforce could be made steeper by a need to reskill or find new career pathways.  Women will have an increased need for pandemic-induced job transitions at rates 3.9 times higher than men.  The women categories that will most likely need to change occupations after the pandemic include women, members of ethnic minority groups, and workers with less than a college degree.

Women’s jobs are found to be almost twice as vulnerable to the pandemic as men’s jobs. In a gender-regressive, do nothing scenario—which assumes that the higher negative impact of Coronavirus on women remains unaddressed—global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2030 will be $1 trillion below where it would have been if Coronavirus had affected men and women equally in their respective areas of employment.  If action is taken now to achieve best-in-region gender-parity improvements by 2030, including investments in education, family planning, maternal health, digital and financial inclusion, and correcting the burden of unpaid-care work related to childcare and caring for the elderly, $13 trillion could be added to global GDP compared with the gender-regressive scenario. It would also raise the female-to-male labor-force participation and create hundreds of millions of new jobs for women globally. That’s a significant and substantial economic opportunity.