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  • Writer's pictureJoshua C. Black

Will COVID-19 Erase Years of Progress for Women in the Workplace?

By: Joshua C. Black, Esq.

For many women, the global pandemic left no real choice but to step away from work to manage new familial obligations like home schooling and caring for youngsters who would have spent their days at daycare prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

We have already seen a disproportionate number of female employees exiting the workforce due to the effects of COVID-19 and the trend is likely to continue. Researchers from the National Women’s Law Center estimate more than 2.3 million women have left the workforce since February 2020, bringing female labor participation rates to the lowest levels the country has seen since 1988.

In 2020, women were forced to take leave, downshift their careers or quit jobs altogether, in disproportionate numbers to stay home and care for children who were sick with COVID-19 or needed supervision because their school campuses closed.

In the first month of 2021 alone, women made up an astonishing 80 percent of U.S. job losses — more proof of a recession that is specifically hitting women, erasing decades of work to narrow the gender gap. A new term - “shecession” - has been coined to describe this shift.

The implications of the current global health crisis are far-reaching and could result in a widening of the gender pay gap as well as a lack of employment and advancement opportunities for women in the years ahead. It could also perpetuate the stereotype that mothers are not reliable employees because of their obligations to child rearing.

Now is an important moment for policymakers, business owners and employers to figure out how they are going to respond to the fact that, more than ever before, female employees are being stretched to cover family caregiving and work obligations at the same time.

Ways to make the workplace more family-friendly, include:

  • Reviewing medical and other leave policies to ensure the policies are gender neutral and available to all employees. For instance, employers can review their handbooks for antiquated language like "maternity leave," opting to update such a policy to "parental leave.” This language shift encourages a well-rounded workforce and embraces the idea that male employees can also take leave to care for family.

  • Providing paid leave and paid sick days to help employees care for family members.

  • Being aware that illness, like COVID-19, affect each employee differently. Employers should review an employee's individual circumstances when considering granting leave or workplace accommodations.

  • Helping make childcare more accessible and affordable for employees.

  • Working to normalize employees taking parental leave when appropriate. Many employees – male and female – say they fear taking parental leave will negatively impact the way they are viewed in the workplaces and will limit growth/promotion opportunities.

  • Being open to flexible work arrangements that make it possible for working parents to have a career while raising their families.

If you have questions about your rights at work, or would like to speak with an Arizona employment attorney regarding your specific situation, reach out to the Law Office of Joshua Black, PLC, at (623) 738-2225.

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