Woman at laptop, children in background

America is facing its first female recession. In September, four times more women than men dropped out of the labor force, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The numbers are not insignificant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, of the workers who left the labor force in September, 865,000 were women, compared to 216,000 men. Over the course of the global pandemic, one of the devastating trends is that women’s jobs are disproportionately affected, wiping out years of progress toward economic equality. 

This situation should bother everyone. Seeing others directly impacted by record-breaking layoffs, and seeing women I admire struggle with the drastic collision of professional and personal demands is distressing and serves a call to action to help working parents everywhere. 

The 19th*, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy, reports the latest statistics capture the “enduring challenges faced by women who make up the majority of the workforce in fields that have been hardest hit by social distancing and the coronavirus — particularly retail and hospitality — and the ongoing dissolution of the child care industry that has left many working mothers without options.”  

Studies show that even in families with both parents working full-time, women are far more likely than men to manage schedules and activities, and to take care of kids when sick. In addition, when families are led by a single parent Census data shows approximately 80.4% of custodial parents are mothers, and 19.6% of custodial parents (approximately 1 in 5) are fathers. No matter their relationship status, many women face work environments that may not offer work from home options. 

Bloomberg reports that women of color have been even more negatively impacted by the pandemic. “Unemployment for Hispanic women surged to 20.2% in April, compared with 4.9% in February. Black women actually saw their worst jobless rate since the 1980s — 16.5% — in May.” So, we’re seeing women from many different backgrounds take what appears to be the only option: dropping out of the workforce.  

As the CEO of a healthcare training organization focused on helping people improve their lives and advance their careers through exceptional healthcare learning for more than 25 years, I know that many of our learners are women and women of color and  they have  backgrounds in retail and hospitality. Many are working mothers and they come to us because they see a better future by taking a new path. So, as we see the devastating effects of this pandemic on jobs, I’d like to offer some much needed words of encouragement and propose a new path forward. 

Examine New Opportunities 

Just as the pandemic has impacted employment for millions of people, there are also in-demand roles – particularly in the healthcare sector – that have been created to combat it. For example, contact tracing and medical billing and coding jobs are going unfilled due to the increasing demand. These jobs can be done from home and qualified applicants have normally trained online for these roles. 

Stay The Course 

Getting laid off or having to leave your job to manage family commitments during this time can make any job seeker feel like the future is bleak. This is totally normal and these feelings should be acknowledged. However, women should remind themselves of their personal and economic value. One aspect of our lives does not define our value. There is hope, and workplaces with more diverse talent will continue to outperform their less-diverse counterparts. 

McKinsey recently released its Women in the Workplace annual study. It notes, “If companies make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace—and there are signs that this is starting to happen—they can retain the employees most affected by today’s crises and nurture a culture in which women have equal opportunity to achieve their potential over the long term.”  

Limit Distractions

2020 has been a harrowing year comprised of massive events that in other years would have defined the entire year; from the pandemic, to wildfires, to confronting systemic racism, to hurricanes, to the elections. The news cycle is non-stop, and is exacerbated by the amplification process known as social media. 

Recognize what is happening, but give yourself permission to take breaks and focus on what is most important for you. For me, this meant giving myself specific times of day that I’d check in on the news and social media. When it comes to getting back to work, a job search can be a long, grueling process, so take the breaks you need, but ensure what you are doing with your time is helping you reach your goals. 

Set a Schedule that Includes Self Care 

I recently wrote about the importance of setting flexible schedules. As you balance the many responsibilities you have, be sure to take care of your physical and mental health. This can include taking a break to read, work out, or meditate. The CDC includes a resource page filled with excellent suggestions for each of us as we cope with increased stress. Suggestions include taking time to unwind each day, talking with trusted family and friends, and getting support from your community and counselors. 

Build Your Network 

Just as the CDC notes the importance of community, many who have found work during the pandemic credit their networks for connecting them with new opportunities. Women can be powerful connectors and communicators. During this stressful time, it is more important than ever to connect with colleagues and friends to get the support you need and to learn of new pathways to a successful career. 

Sites like LinkedIn and even personal social media sites, like Instagram and Twitter, can help you re-establish connections and start a conversation that could lead to a new career. If you are in a place to mentor, be the best mentor possible. If you need a mentor, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone and ask. Develop the relationship and invest in the time it takes to learn. 

As women, we need to support each other, help make connections for others, and take the time to care for ourselves as we build new pathways to careers that work for our situations – especially since they have been drastically impacted this year. While the current statistics about this first female recession should alarm everyone, they are also a call to action to reach out to each other, provide support, and to re-imagine what our work-life balance can look like with a new career path.