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Are working women losing ground during the covid-19 pandemic?

November 6, 2020

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As Americans practice social distancing, many businesses have temporarily closed. (Photo of a woman wearing a mask by Pille-Riin Priske via Unsplash)

Country music singer Dolly Parton will have to update her 1980 hit song, “9 to 5,” to “6 to 9” in 2020 for working women. More women than men have been laid off since the pandemic began. In September, the labor force participation rate of women fell to 55.6% after peaking at 60% in 2000, reports the U.S. Department of Labor.

Especially hard hit are senior-level women, working mothers, and women of color and with disabilities in corporate America. One in four of these women are now thinking about downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce because of the unique challenges imposed on them by Covid-19, according to “Women in the Workplace 2020” by management consultants at McKinsey & Company. 

Reporting that delves into the challenges faced by each group will be a “must-read” on business news pages, in stories that address these three questions:

What is the challenge for senior-level women?

Use your news organization’s social media channels and put out a blast to interview women in your reporting area who represent these demographics.

Between 2015, when McKinsey launched the study with LeanIn.org, women in senior vice president roles grew from 23% to 28%, and those occupying executive positions grew from 17% to 21%. But a “broken rung” at the managerial level, which is the first step up to a promotion, has begun to weaken the ladder, notes the study: For every 100 men, 85 women were promoted, and the gap is significantly larger for black women and Latinas who were promoted in lower numbers, at 58 and 71, respectively. 

What is the challenge for working mothers?

Day care, for one. Half of the United States has too few licensed day care centers, according to a 2018 Center for American Progress study, and the average family can spend as much as a third of their income on day care. Women who work fulltime do “double duty,” according to 2019 research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,  with housekeeping chores and caregiving adding up to 20 hours a week, or half a fulltime job. During the pandemic, more of the childcare and housekeeping has been picked up by working women, the report says. Is that true among the working mothers in your group?

What is the challenge for women of color and women with disabilities?

These women described a heavier emotional toll than others. Women of color said they face day-to-day bias in their workplaces and slower promotions, which the death of a loved one from Covid-19 and the racial violence sparked by George Floyd’s death only amplified. Women with disabilities reported being uncomfortable sharing the additional challenges they faced because of Covid-19, to not appear “weak.” Do these findings reflect those among the women in group?


  • Dorianne Perrucci

    Since 2001, Dorianne's freelance bylines have appeared in leading print and digital news outlets, including The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, TheStreet.com, The Star-Ledger and NJ Biz. During the financial crisis of 2007-2009, Do...

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