As the country braces for yet another brutal week of job losses, it’s increasingly clear that the pain — like the coronavirus itself — is spreading unequally, with women disproportionately slammed.
We’re in a full-blown “she-cession.” Women accounted for 55 percent of the 20.5 million jobs lost in April, with especially high unemployment rates for those ages 20–24 and over 50, as well as for women of color. Women are heavily represented in industries hardest hit by the virus, including travel, restaurants, and childcare, and they make up more than 60 percent of low-wage workers. They bear the brunt of childcare, homeschooling and housework, putting them further at a disadvantage.
Even more disturbing, the damage to women post-pandemic is set to intensify — unless we intervene now. The reason: Many of the diversity gains over the past few years have been due to the historically tight labor market. With unemployment rates low, companies needed bodies. They invested in broader recruiting efforts and focused resources on retaining, not just hiring, diverse talent.
Those moves should be more important now than ever. A mountain of research shows that companies with diverse workforces weather recessions better than those without. A Fortune magazine analysis concluded that from 2007–09, stock prices for S&P 500 companies plunged by almost 36 percent, but the most diverse companies saw gains averaging 14.4 percent.
During high unemployment, ‘diversity is disposable’
Yet during periods of high unemployment, diversity goes out the window. It’s seen as disposable. Diversity and inclusion programs get gutted. Case in point: In October 2008, as the financial crisis was still unfolding, 39 percent of HR professionals polled said budgets for diversity and anti-harassment training had already been slashed.
The current crisis suggests the damage will be deeper. The United Nations has warned of a “shadow pandemic,” with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noting it “is having devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls.”
The “disproportionate negative effect” on women’s employment is “likely to be persistent,” and workers who lose jobs are “likely to have less secure employment in the future,” according to a new working paper from researchers at Northwestern University, the University of California San Diego and the University of Mannheim.