In the first 12 months of the pandemic, 53% of the US labour-force exits are women. In addition, the April 2021 US job reports suggest these exits may be permanent: of the 328,000 jobs created in April, 102% of the net job gains belong to men.
Based on a recent McKinsey report, employer-offered flexibility, such as reduced hours and a shifted work schedule, does not necessarily preclude women from balancing the duties of full-time childcare and employment. This is especially true for women who are the primary or sole breadwinner in their household.
McKinsey also interviewed a co-author of the report America’s recovery from 2020 ‘shecession’: Building a female future of childcare and work for the report. The co-author pointed out that traditionally, recessions hit men the hardest, but this is the first “shecession” where women were faced with more challenges compared to men.
The struggles women faced in the workforce is not unique to the US. According to the International Labour Organisation, 81 million jobs across Asia Pacific were wiped out in 2020, with women and young people disproportionately affected.
As more countries increased vaccination rates and move towards loosening of social distancing restrictions to help the economy recover, we are concerned that the efforts took to increase women participation in the workforce will come undone due to the pandemic. The US statistics on job creation benefitting men disproportionately more than women also sounds alarm bells for us. It is therefore important for governments to study what more can be done to prevent more women from dropping out of the workforce, as well as implement policies, such as reskilling and encouragement of flexible working lifestyle, to help women re-enter the workforce again.