Can We Afford to Lose Women in Our Economy?

Can We Afford to Lose Women in Our Economy?

Kelly Nevins

In March, I wrote about how COVID-19 is a gender and equity issue; pundits have coined the term "she-cession" about the disproportionate gender impact. Recently, McKinsey and Company updated their annual Women in the Workplace study and found that one in four women are considering downshifting their career or leaving the workforce altogether. This number increases to one in three if they are mothers. Women of color are more deeply impacted. In Rhode Island, 25,000 women have left the workforce. Can we afford to lose even more?

The lack of a care infrastructure has contributed to the hardships facing families in Rhode Island and across the country during this pandemic. As the US and Rhode Island work to address dual health and economic crises, our leaders have an opportunity to create a "new better" in which a vital care infrastructure can help our economy to recover quickly.  We need to build a more inclusive, responsive, and innovative world.

Direct investments to subsidize child care and long-term care costs and enhanced wages for caregivers can have an immediate economic impact. The US Dept. of Labor in 2015 estimated that the 5M women who were missing from the US labor force for reasons connected to family care resulted in a loss of $500B of economic activity each year.  Investment in the caregiving economy is a significant job creation strategy and can generate twice as many jobs per dollar as "shovel-ready" initiatives. These types of assignments also make all other work possible.

Recovery plans must start with a universal care infrastructure, including:

  • Universal child care
  • Paid leave for all (both paid family, medical leave, and paid sick days)
  • Raising wages for all care workers (i.e., child care, nursing care, teachers, etc...)

Workplaces can also be part of the new better by asking whether their current productivity and performance expectations are realistic and based on results, rather than the number of hours spent on the project or done outside the workplace. Business leaders should also signal that it is ok to take advantage of workplace flexibility options and create a culture supporting both in-person and remote workers. In particular, we need men to take advantage of these options as well, so that the need for flexibility is not seen as solely a gender issue.

We can't afford to lose women in the workplace. Focusing on a care infrastructure and creating an equitable workplace culture will mean our economy will come back more vibrant and productive in the future.