“A pandemic magnifies all existing inequalities.” – Helen Lewis, The Atlantic.
In planning for this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), I found it impossible to ignore the growing mountain of research that shows the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women.
This year’s IWD theme is ‘Break the Bias’. Never has this been more important than as we emerge (hopefully) from two appallingly difficult years where women’s rights have been eroded worldwide. Since the start of the pandemic, women’s economic power has decreased, violence against women has risen, and bias against working mothers has very likely been amplified.
Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses since the pandemic began. Labor participation levels for women in the US have plummeted back down to 1988 levels.
Why is this?
Primarily, because women still take on the roles of caregivers in society. This is due to a combination of societal norms and existing inequalities within the workforce. Women generally earn less than men (hello, gender pay gap) and so, in heterosexual relationships, women’s careers are more likely to be deprioritized when disruptions happen. And mothers lead approximately 86% of single-parent families in the US.
For many women, conditions brought about by the pandemic have meant becoming full-time caregivers for children unable to go school or to other daycare arrangements. This has led to an exodus of mothers from the workforce, and added a new level of strain and, almost certainly, bias (hi there, motherhood penalty) to those who have stayed.
But it’s not just the extra demands of childcare that have created more difficult working conditions for women (and motherhood is not womanhood). The disproportionate burden of unpaid care work extends to looking after sick family members or caring for elderly relatives whose usual support systems have vanished or require bolstering thanks to increased isolation.
Of course, there are other factors contributing to job losses and economic hardship. Women, and particularly women of color, are also more likely to work in the service sector – industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
However you look at it, the last two years will have had a deep and long-lasting impact on gender equality.
Fewer women in the workplace, combined with a much greater burden of responsibility for those that remain, has created a perfect storm to reinforce existing biases and inequalities.
So it’s against this backdrop that we come to International Women’s Week, 2022…
Every year at Envisio, we celebrate some of the inspirational women we work with in public service.
I’m fortunate that a significant part of my role is to tell the stories of success from our public sector customers. These are usually people behind-the-scenes who are doing the work to drive higher-performing cities, counties, and school districts, and to create more livable communities. For me, connecting with these unsung heroes and promoting their stories is joyful and meaningful work.
And an interesting trend that we’ve observed as a company (and one that really deserves deeper analysis) is that a disproportionate number of our strategy and performance management “champions” within local government are women.
Over the last year, not a week has gone past that I haven’t spoken to a woman who isn’t navigating some additional, pandemic-induced responsibilities. For many, it’s juggling childcare and home-schooling with work. Some are shouldering the responsibilities of caring for sick family members. Others, still, have elderly relatives isolating or shielding that need extra support.
However, I often feel that there is an unspoken rule that as working women we don’t talk about the struggles we face—for fear of judgment, or bias, or simply because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable by discussing “women’s issues”. We don’t really talk…
So, this year, as we highlight some of the wonderful women we get to work with, we’ve focused not only on their achievements but also on some of the challenges they’ve had to overcome over the last two years.
As always, we hope to not only celebrate their accomplishments, but to inspire and educate by sharing some of their wisdom.
Happy International Women’s Week!