Page 42 - BusinessWest March 17, 2021
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COVID-19 Takes Significant Toll on Women in the Workforce
IBy Joanne Hilferty, Dan Kenary, and Brooke Thomson
n 2020, the same year a record number of ic, women on average made about 81 cents for women were elected to Congress and the every dollar earned by their male counterparts. first woman was elected vice president, Women and men should have the same
COVID-19 had a devastating and potentially options to pursue a career and raise a family,
meetings before 9 a.m. or at lunch, when chil- dren need assistance.
These steps alone will not fully offset the impact of the pandemic on women; they will, however, demonstrate the business commu- nity’s commitment to supporting the Com- monwealth’s skilled female labor force. Massa- chusetts cannot afford to go back to business as usual as the light begins to shine at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, especially when it comes to how businesses and public policy treat work- ing women.
The pandemic has presented an unprec- edented responsibility for the Commonwealth
permanent impact on women in the work- force.
The percentage of women participating
in the U.S. labor market in October 2020 was the lowest since 1988, and of the 9.8 million jobs that have not yet returned, 55% belong
to women. In one year, COVID-19 wiped out a generation of progress and put the precarious- ness of being a woman in the modern American workplace into stark perspective.
Before the pandemic, women in Massa- chusetts were participating in the workforce at increasing rates, surpassing the national rate by 2019. COVID-19 brought them back to where they were at the end of the Great Recession in 2009.
More than 40% of female employees in Mas- sachusetts work in education, healthcare, and social assistance, sectors that have been particu- larly hard hit by the economic downturn. Add the lack of quality childcare options brought about by the closure of schools and early-edu- cation programs, and you have a perfect storm forcing women to face gut-wrenching choices.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statis- tics, in September 2020, when schools typically reopen, a staggering 69% of women said the pandemic was keeping them from returning to work for reasons other than downsizing or busi- ness closure. In a survey conducted by the Asso- ciated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) last fall, 67% of employers listed lack of childcare as a primary concern for their workforces.
Fortunately, organizations in Massachusetts are taking a leadership role in addressing the ongoing challenges facing women in the work- force. The Boston Women’s Workforce Council, the Commonwealth Institute, and the newly formed Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education are focused on advancing important changes, such as pay and representation equity. Even before the pandem-
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to encourage more women of color in programs like this, and we want to make sure it’s financially acces- sible for all women.”
Cabral noted several highlights of the course, such as assessing communication styles and tech- niques, as well as working with each woman to develop a profes- sional roadmap to help her reach her potential. Each program partic- ipant will also receive 30 minutes of private, one-on-one coaching from Annie Shibata, owner of Growth Mindset Leadership and Commu- nication Coaching in Cincinnati, who will coach each student via
but the pandemic has laid bare the reality that women are expected to take greater responsibil- ity for their families without sufficient support.
Ensuring that jobs traditionally filled by women have more extensive protections and finding a path toward more balanced represen- tation of women in industries like information technology, transportation, and construction
— fields where female representation is still lim- ited — are also critical steps to achieve greater balance in the long term. However,
immediate action is needed to
ensure progress made by women
does not erode further.
That is why AIM is calling on employers to make a commitment now to review their practices and policies and make immediate, sub- stantive adjustments to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on women and other caregivers in the workforce. Specific recommendations include:
and the nation to see decreasing numbers of female workforce participation for what they are — gaps in the system allowing available and accessible talent to fall straight through. Failure to act on them now will have long-term, devas- tating impacts on the Massachusetts economy. u
Joanne Hilferty is board chair at Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and president and CEO of Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries. Dan Kenary is immediate past chair of the AIM board and CEO and co-founder
of Mass Bay Brewing Co. Brooke Thomson is executive vice president of Government Affairs at AIM. This article first appeared as an op-ed in the Boston Globe.
of progress and put the precariousness of being a woman in the modern American workplace into stark perspective.”
In one year, COVID-19 wiped out a generation
    • Committing to providing pay increases and advancement steps to women caregivers on schedule rather than penalizing those who have been on leave or working limited hours;
• Extending the time workers can be on leave to coincide with the duration of the pandemic;
• Giving hiring preference to former work- ers, if their experience and skills allow, who were required to leave the workplace due to family demands;
• Extending the time that returning workers can bridge tenure for benefits and other consid- erations to coincide with the full duration of the pandemic;
• Listening to individual employees about their specific needs and expectations and not making assumptions about what each woman or caregiver can or cannot do; and
• Instituting practices that reduce conflict with remote schooling, such as not holding
  “We know that women are not in leadership roles as much as men, and there are even fewer women of color in leadership positions.
skills and abilities to step into all sorts of leadership roles.
“We want to see more women CEOs, more women chiefs of police, more women judges,” she said. “Unless we support women being able to access these oppor- tunities, we’re not going to see real change.”
At the end of the day, Cabral said, she and Borgatti share a com- mon mission: to elevate the skills of women who are willing to put in the work. “We want to make sure those skills are here in Western Mass., and they stay in Western Mass.” u
video link.
“Incorporating one-on-one
coaching elevates the course to a higher level of really personalizing the experience for each individual,” Cabral said.
One of the main reasons the Women’s Fund got involved was
to encourage more representation of women in leadership. Borgatti hopes women who take the course emerge more confident in their
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