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Gender equity is a foundational element of a high-functioning society. As we know, this long-held goal has yet to be reached in the United States and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic set back progress toward this goal. Many of us have been or know someone affected by gender inequity during the pandemic.
The pandemic has highlighted the fact that women disproportionately carry the burden of unpaid care in our society. When Covid hit, more women than men left or compromised their jobs to provide child or elder care for family members. A 2020 report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s and that women accounted for 54% of all job losses during the pandemic. The job market has changed: Businesses have streamlined and cut positions, and there are fewer jobs for women to come back to. This has resulted in a regressive effect that is predicted to have a potentially trillion-dollar impact on U.S. GDP before 2030 if not corrected.
Complicating matters is the tricky job market that is complicated by the emotional backlash of the pandemic. In an Oct. 21 article in Time magazine, Abby Vesoulis reports that 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August alone and that they are not applying for the roughly 10.4 million jobs that are open, citing poor working conditions, low wages, burnout and inability to achieve work/life balance. Women make up a large portion of this exodus. In a related article, Vesoulis quotes Rachel Thomas, CEO of Lean In, a gender-equity advocacy group co-founded by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, as saying, “If we had a panic button, we’d be hitting it. We have never seen numbers like these.”
Take a SIP of this: curbing the ‘Shecession’
Research is being done across the globe to find ways to stem the effects of the “Shecession” – the exodus of female workers from the job market. The Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, women’s business group Tarra and Metropolitan State University of Denver have partnered to explore the issues surrounding the “Shecession,” with a special focus on how to improve conditions for women as they reenter the workforce. Preliminary suggestions from their research offer guidelines for how we can create equitable work environments and support women as they come back to their jobs.
If you have five minutes:
- Ask a woman colleague how she has been doing amid the pandemic. What are her responsibilities at home, outside of work? Ask how you can lend support.
- Be gracious with deadlines and due dates for your women colleagues. Flexibility and consideration may be just what they need to keep them motivated and engaged in work.
- Opt in to the flexible spending program in your benefits for dependent care. This allows you to spend pretax dollars for your child-care expenses, saving you money every year. MSU Denver’s open-enrollment season runs through Nov. 19, so take advantage.
If you have 30 minutes:
- Engage in a mentorship relationship. Women employees can seek out a mentor with a desired skill set or who is in a position they might aspire to. They can also provide mentoring to a new faculty or staff member. Mentoring can occur across industries. While the mentoring relationship itself may require more than 30-minute meetings, the initial outreach can occur in this shorter timeframe.
- Consider working on stackable credentials that might incrementally bump up your pay. Ask your department chair or dean what may be available in your discipline.
If you have an hour or more, and especially if you are in a leadership role:
- Advocate for affordable child care for employees.
- Employers can pay for it, subsidize it or at least negotiate lower rates for their employees.
- Advocate for menu-themed pay structures and offer more inclusive ways to compensate employees for their work.
- Some employees may choose to work fewer hours for less money; some may want to donate part of their income to charity, etc.
- Provide genuine flexibility in work schedules.
- Advocate for increased family-leave time.
- Work to increase access to loans and microlending for women entrepreneurs.
- Award equity badges to units on campus that demonstrate intentional and transparent methods of recruiting, promoting and retaining women employees, especially at the management level and especially women of color.
Check out this May 9, 2020, New York Times article by Alisha Haridisani Gupta: “Why Some Women Call this Recession a ‘Shecession.”
Or Amanda Holpuch’s piece in the Guardian on “How the Shecession Will Cause Long-term Harm for Women in the U.S.”
Here’s how other universities are confronting the “Shecession”: Loyola Marymount University published this internal article called “Cura Personalis for Whom? The New ‘Shecession’ Highlights Gender Inequities Across Campus”, and the University of Colorado Denver talked about “How the Pandemic is Impacting Women’s Careers” in the July issue of its alumni magazine, The Coloradan.