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The Economic Downturn’s Impact on Women: A Shecession

Sarah Alter, president and CEO, Network of Executive Women

2020 is the year of the “Shecession.” COVID-19 has upended lives around the world, but evidence continues to show that the economic downturn has disproportionately affected women. As children are required to stay home from school and loved ones are in need of care, women are leaving or considering leaving the workforce at an alarming rate. According to the study, Women in the Workplace, one in four women are thinking about reducing their job responsibilities or quitting work altogether.

In September, as the second wave of the pandemic intensified, 1.1 million workers left the workforce, and a shocking 865,000 (79%) of those were women.

The Shecession for Women of Color
These numbers grow bleaker when looking at the impact on women of color. In October 2020, the unemployment rate for Black women older than 20 was 9.3% versus 5.4% for white women and 6.2% for white men. According to a National Women’s Law Center report released in October, “More than half of Latinas (57.1%) and Black, non-Hispanic women (53.6%) reported a loss of income since March, compared to 41% of white, non-Hispanic men and 40.4% of white, non-Hispanic Women." 

What Can We Do?
While we may not be able to help move one of the promising COVID vaccines forward, we can push for key changes that will better support women. Employers must support their employees with work policies that allow them to keep their careers while caring for their children. That doesn’t just mean more flexibility in setting work hours, or kindness and compassion when the kids show up on Zoom. It means a concrete policy change for the long haul. According to the Women in the Workplace study, “Less than a third of companies have adjusted their performance review criteria to account for the challenges created by the pandemic, and only about half have updated employees on their plans for performance reviews or their productivity expectations during COVID-19.”

Systemwide Change
We also need to ensure this kind of disproportionate disenfranchising of women never happens again. That means working toward a more equitable society where men and women share equal responsibilities and expectations for housework and childcare. It also means more opportunities for women in fields where remote work is possible. The lower the pay for a job, the more overrepresented women are as employees. Closing this gap is key to closing the wage gap for all women. Investing in diversity and inclusion within organizations is one step in the right direction. Supporting women-led businesses, supporting the leadership development of women throughout their career journeys, and ensuring your organization is following D&I best practices will all help move the needle. If the Shecession is to be combated, and we are not to lose years of hard-fought, precious progress for women’s equality, we must look carefully at the decisions we make over the next year, and commit to supporting women — or risk losing them.


About the Author
Sarah Alter is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, a learning and leadership community representing nearly 13,000 in 22 regional groups in the United States and Canada. Learn more at

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