In 2020, women workers suffered unprecedented losses, facing both disproportionate job loss and a proliferation of caregiving responsibilities – a combination that could ultimately set back much of the progress women have made in the workforce in recent years and decades.
But, with a new year, a new presidential administration, and a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, do women have a chance to recover in 2021?
Six experts – from Melinda Gates to Tina Tchen, CEO of Time’s Up – weigh in on the issue. All stressed the critical importance of addressing key gaps such as accessibility of childcare services and paid family leave. But from unique perches – lobbying Congress on these issues, working with businesses to better serve women workers, and analyzing economic data – everyone has a different perspective on the New Year.
Read their predictions, hopes and goals for 2021 below:
Kimberly Churches, CEO, American Association of University Women
We really learned this year that it’s not about work-life balance, it’s more of a work-life mix. Greater flexibility in the workplace will be a real major trend that we are going to see in 2021. Getting through this crisis and envisioning a real recovery means that we need to focus on helping women as well.
As the 117th Congress dawns, we’re going to see more transparency bills: on pay equity, on flexible workplace practices, and on access to care – like the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Family Law.
These bills, however, were drafted before the pandemic. So I think you’ll see a lot of organizations, elected officials, and policy makers working to make sure they’re doing things right for a post-COVID-19 world. I think we’re going to see these bills come forward with a few tweaks and tweaks that may better match the direction workplaces should be taking, as they fully embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially given of what we have learned this year.
Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Founder of Pivotal Ventures and Author of The moment of the elevator
Women have suffered the worst of the recession of 2020. They could also suffer the worst from the recovery of 2021.
One big reason is caregiving. Even before COVID-19, women were almost three times more likely than men to quit their job to care for a family member. Today, they are leaving the labor market in record numbers. A recent survey found that a one in four women plans to downgrade their career or quit their job due to increased care responsibilities during the pandemic.
It keeps me from thinking that when businesses reopen there might be a lot of empty desks where women used to sit. This is the path we are heading towards, unless lawmakers finally give the healthcare crisis the attention it deserves. To start, we need a national policy on paid family and medical leave – now. We are the only industrialized country that does not have one. We also need federal action to stabilize the faltering child care sector and to allocate additional resources to long-term care services and supports so sick and aging adults have options other than counting. on a mother or a daughter.
If we ignore these needs, it will worsen the recession and slow down the recovery for everyone. If we recognize that caregiving is infrastructure and invest in it accordingly, women can simply save our economy.
C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO, Institute for Women’s Policy Research
In the short term of the first quarter of the year, I expect to see more women leave the workforce, especially if schools remain closed and daycares remain closed. I expect to see some women having to make this choice. In the second quarter of the year, we will see women being able to re-enter the workforce due to the stability that comes with predictable care. I think we have a long way to go.
I don’t think the recovery will be quick. I do not do it. I think it will be slow. And it may seem accelerated at first when home orders are 100% thrown. But some of the jobs we lost will not come back. I think we are still a few years away for a full recovery, in terms of women’s employment levels before the pandemic. But I believe there will be a strong stimulus package similar to the one in 2008. I hope this will boost the economy, but also help the women workers most affected.
Tina Tchen, President and CEO, Time’s Up
When I was to the White House 12 years ago we walked out the door with a Recovery law trying to stimulate the economy – it was really a job for us. Vice President Biden, at the time, was leading this recovery effort. And I hope that now – President-elect Biden will do the same – and that the economic team he has put together understands that.
I hope that, even more than 12 years ago, individual companies will respond with their own policies and their own investment in the workforce – so that we can actually see the change happening in the way we do. let’s invest in our workforce, like building healthcare infrastructure.
I really think 2021 may be the year we make this kind of generational and transformational change.
Rachel Thomas, Co-Founder and CEO, LeanIn.org
When experts talk about the “future of work”, we often talk about artificial intelligence or automation or robotics. COVID-19 has pushed us in a different direction: the future of work for women. It is really clear that remote working is here to stay; 90% of companies think more work will be done remotely after COVID-19.
On the positive side, women, especially mothers and caregivers, are very likely to take advantage of this option. But it will be extremely important to create a culture that embraces and does not stigmatize remote working.
If we don’t think about the long-term shift to remote work, it can end up creating two categories of employees: those who don’t have a lot of caring responsibilities and will have a lot of face-to-face time with managers, and those with caregiving responsibilities – mostly women – who may end up paying to work remotely with fewer opportunities, less time with senior leaders and less chances to move forward.
Jasmine Tucker, Director of Research, National Women’s Law Center
If this recession resembles that of the past, women will experience unemployment in 2021; Black women after the Great Recession have experienced double-digit unemployment rates for about 60 consecutive months; meanwhile, white men never hit double digits.
We saw 2.2 million women completely abandon the labor market. We wiped out a decade of employment gains for women in a month; we are now over 30 years behind in our participation rate.
Now there are two people looking for a job for every job posting – so employers are going to be selective about who they hire. I hate to think it’s true, but we’ve seen it time and time again: Employers are racist, sexist, and older. They will not hire women of color or hire them for the lowest paying job. Older women may not return to the workforce at all.
For black and Latin women, the wage gap deprived them of their ability to save money; when they re-enter the workforce, they will be more likely to simply take the first thing that comes along, often at a lower level than they were before. Whereas a white man with more savings and more resources could maybe wait a little longer.
The impact will be long and hard. Without any action now, there is no way for women to recover and recoup the losses.
Learn more about the most powerful women in business of Fortune:
- Years 2020 The most powerful women listing
- Founders under fire: are women in the startup world unfairly targeted?
- “There is simply no confidence”: the fight to win vaccine skepticism in the black community
- Why rich women of color are more confident investors than their white peers
- Former White House Insiders on Biden’s 4 biggest priorities on day one