CAREER | January 17, 2021

by Stephanie Ritz

Will 2021 Bring Women Workforce Success?

Every new year begins with optimism, and many of us are thinking hard about how we’re going to make sure 2021 is a better and more hopeful year for the women workforce the last one. We’re beginning to see the economy recover from the devastating blow it was dealt last spring when lockdown and other safety measures decimated the travel, hospitality, and retail industries and caused ripple effects throughout the economy. But we still have far to go: the American economy ended in December 2020 with ten million fewer jobs than it had the previous January. A disproportionate number of those jobs belonged to women.

Let’s have a look at why 2020 caused women workforce woes that our male counterparts didn’t endure, why 2021 might just be different — and, most important of all, what we need to do to put ourselves back on track for career success.


The Second Shift

The unemployment rates for the men and women workforce might be roughly the same, but that’s not the whole story. The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines unemployed as “jobless, actively seeking work, and available to take a job.” In other words, if you lost your job because of an illness or injury and aren’t ready to return to work, you’re not unemployed. If you’ve stopped applying for jobs because no one in your area is hiring, you’re not unemployed. More to the point, if you’d like to work outside the home but can’t because you’re responsible for childcare or eldercare, you’re not unemployed, either. You’re “out of the workforce,” measured by the “workforce participation rate” — the percent of all Americans who are either employed or unemployed. That’s why for American women, workforce participation rates, which had been slowly creeping up for decades, just dropped precipitously.

Mother working from home on a laptop as her son lays on the floor playingAlthough comprehensive research hasn’t yet been done, it seems that childcare and eldercare are the biggest reasons for the change. In most households, women work most of what sociologist Arlie Hochschild called the “second shift.” That’s all the cooking, cleaning, childcare, laundry, and healthcare a household needs to function. 2020 made the second shift a lot longer. Closed schools meant kids had to be coached and supervised through Zoom lessons. Closed daycare facilities meant young children and elders had to be kept at home all day. Some people could work from home, typing up reports at the kitchen table with one eye on the rest of the family, always ready to jump up and help a child in a crisis and make up for the interruption by working late. Some couldn’t, either because their job couldn’t be done from home
or simply because it was too stressful.
One in four women who became unemployed last year said it was because of the lack of childcare, compared to one in eight men.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

When looking at daily Covid case rates, it’s hard to believe that there’s cause for hope, but there is. State governments have begun to administer the first vaccines. Mass vaccination will take time, but our first glimpse of a post-Covid world should come in 2021. At the end of 2020, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell predicted, “Sometime in the middle of next year, you will see people feeling comfortable going out and engaging in a broader range of activities.”

Of course, it’s a bit early to start predicting how many jobs 2021 will add to the economy. Neither Jerome Powell nor anyone else can predict the future, and it’s all right to be skeptical of optimism. Depending on where you lived at the beginning of the pandemic, you might recall the “fourteen-day” lockdown measures some local governments believed would stamp out the virus in March, many of which were extended fourteen days at a time until about June. Many things could go wrong with the vaccination program, from a disruption in the supply chain to a new strain of the virus against which the current vaccines are ineffective. However, at the time of writing, success is the most likely outcome. There is a real cause for hope.

What Will 2021 Look Like for the Women Workforce?

If people start to feel safe going about their normal lives again, we will start to see the government’s stimulus program’s full effect. When the federal government sent every American $1200 in April, most of the money went to households’ immediate expenses: food, bills, and existing debt. Those who could afford to mainly put it in their savings accounts. That means we didn’t see an immediate effect, but also that we may see a bump in spending when Americans feel more secure, as they spend their new savings on a flight or cruise. Meanwhile, the Fed has lowered interest rates to zero, making it easier than ever to start a business. They’re not getting many takers just now, but that may change when there’s less uncertainty. All these measures will create opportunities in the workforce women can exploit.

Getting back into the workforce after taking time off is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Even women who took some time off this year still have the skills and connections they need to succeed. After all, 2020 may have felt like a decade, but it was only one year. In the meantime, keep your network relevant by staying in touch with work connections through safe, virtual means like Zoom happy hours or even just the odd LinkedIn note. You can even use virtual classes or seminars to keep up with the latest technology in your field. Woman Workforce – Don’t give up, and when the economy starts to add jobs, you’ll build your career and find your place in the post-Covid world.

As you build or re-establish your career, confidence will be essential. Read my free guide, “5 Steps to Confidence,” for tips on how to succeed. Please send me a message today or set up a free Possibilities Call to find out how I can help you build a plan to take on the world of 2021.


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