The Young Women Entering the Workforce During a Pandemic

Author: Teresa Mettela (Left Leaning)

Khadija Malik, a recent graduate from George Washington University, has just entered the workforce as a Pakistani woman during a global pandemic. Although in the span of just a few months she has found job security as a paralegal at the New York District Attorney’s Office, the same cannot be said for many of her female colleagues. 

With the current economic uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, Malik is noticing a number of her female friends updating their LinkedIn communities about getting laid off. 

“Before I was hired at my current job, I was thinking about graduate school as a Plan B,” says the GWU alum. “While graduate school has always been in the plan, COVID-19 started making me think about it a lot earlier and with a lot more pressure than I had originally imagined.”

Malik’s worries about her own job stability aren’t unwarranted, simply put, women have been facing unemployment rates higher than men since the beginning of the summer. 

The most recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ in June shows that 11.2% of women over 20 are unemployed, which is a full percentage point higher than male unemployment of the same age group.

Women have been losing jobs disproportionally quicker and on a larger scale than men since women are more likely to maintain jobs in the sectors that have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. The current recession was caused by shutdowns of specific kinds of businesses in the name of public health. In many of these fields – like education, health care, and leisure and hospitality – women are overrepresented, according to TIME Magazine.

Shamilah Faria, a 23 year old employee at a manufacturing company in Queens, has also noticed how the mass layoffs are affecting women in the United States. 

”My friend who is an engineer got a raise pre-COVID, but as soon as COVID hit, she got let go,” said Faria. “We are in a unique position, because we are younger and less experienced than our colleagues, so we might be more disposable.” 

While Faria is keen to bring up how these layoffs affect recent college graduates, this poses another setback for all women across America. As the country begins to reopen, women are being re-employed at a slower rate than men according to TIME Magazine, meaning the effects of the pandemic will continue to immobilize women and their job security. As cited by NPR using the FRED data source, women accounted for 55% of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April, but they accounted for only 45% of the 2.5 million jobs that came back in May. It is especially disheartening to note that a couple months before coronavirus erupted, it was the first time in U.S history that women made up 50% of the workforce during a non-recessionary period. Now, that number has dropped to 49.2% – the lowest it has been since 2008.

As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is predicted that many women who make the decision to leave the workforce, temporarily or permanently, for familial or personal reasons are in the middle of their careers. 

“At the same moment where there is this real economic contraction, our whole caregiving infrastructure in this country has been shut down,” says Emily Martin, VP for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center. 

“That might also be why women are feeling the punch of this a little harder because their flexibility is going down at the very moment when employers are trying to figure out who they need to let go.” 

Emily Martin

Martin explains that during this monumental time in history, women are being forced to assume traditional gender roles. In fact, they are expected to take on the majority of caregiving responsibilities, such as childcare and housework. As a result, previously employed women are unable to continue working their full time or even part time jobs. These women are being robbed of the opportunity to move into leadership roles and advance their careers. In the future, we might see detrimental gaps in leadership pipelines – fewer women will take on these important roles. 

“I’ve been seeing a bunch of my female friends on Facebook making cakes! I think with the demise of their corporate jobs, they return to these crafty ways of making money,” Faria points out. “I never see guys making cakes.”

Even during these uncertain times, Malik has found comfort within her online community of female friendships.  

“A few weeks before I started my job, I was feeling frustrated by the job hunting process, until I joined a Facebook group of women entrepreneurs. Reading comments of women on each other’s posts definitely helped me in realizing that I am not alone in my process,” says Malik.

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