Editors Note: For the latest in Deadline’s A Year of Covid series looking back at the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic, Time’s Up boss Tina Tchen surveys the damage the lockdown inflicted on women in the workforce, and some of the steps we can take to begin rebuilding in a healthy and inclusive way.
It has been one year since the pandemic hit the United States and Hollywood closed down, and the damage to American women in and outside the entertainment industry has been nothing short of catastrophic.
A majority of these women left the workforce not by choice, but because either their jobs were eliminated or their caregiving responsibilities became too burdensome in the time of Covid-19. Add the systemic inequities embedded in our society that got us to where we are today, and it is evident that the societal infrastructure to support women has never been there.
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The pandemic did not create these issues: it simply exacerbated the effects of an imbalanced power structure that has devalued women for centuries. We see these power dynamics at play in every aspect of our society, from the lack of women directors nominated at the Oscars to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination across jobs and industries.
And if we don’t act now, we risk turning back the clock on women’s progress in the workforce permanently.
Black women, Indigenous women, and Latinas experienced greater risks long before the pandemic. They are more likely to hold frontline jobs and are overrepresented in domestic care and lower wage health care workforce, where basic workplace protections — from access to protective equipment, to protections against sexual harassment — are most likely to be lacking. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, up to 85% of women in the United States report having experienced sexual harassment at work. And women who experience sexual harassment at work are six times more likely to change jobs, often ending up in less desirable fields with less pay.
For BIPOC women, who already grappled with higher unemployment rates and health disparities due to systemic racism, the pandemic has put them at even greater risk. A Time’s Up Foundation survey conducted with One Fair Wage found a dramatic increase in sexual harassment during the pandemic, which is compounded by having to ask customers to comply with Covid-19 safety protocols. These layered crises mean that many BIPOC women will have to work longer in unsafe, lower-paying jobs, deal with life-long medical complications, and manage retirement with very little in savings.
In addition to the public health crisis, the economic toll, and racial injustice, the pandemic has exacerbated a fourth crisis: a caregiving crisis. Women with caregiving responsibilities — including those caring for a child or supporting an elder family member — have been pushed to a breaking point during the pandemic. Many women have been left with only the options of quitting their jobs in order to stay home and care for a loved one or missing a paycheck. These same women have picked up additional child care responsibilities when children’s schools and daycares closed, forcing some women to work less or leave the workforce altogether. When aging loved ones need care, the responsibility disproportionately and reflexively fell, and continues to fall, upon women.
As we look ahead to a post-pandemic “normal,” it’s clear we can’t go back to the ways things were. There is an opportunity to rebuild better than before — creating the foundation for a healthy and inclusive economy.
So, where do we turn from here? Here’s a few things employers in the public and private sectors can do to advance safety, equity, and dignity in the workplace:
- Invest in a strong care infrastructure. Today, more than 30 million U.S. workers do not have access to permanent paid family and medical leave through their employer. Recent Time’s Up research shows that investing in a robust care infrastructure would create millions of jobs, while building a healthier, more equitable economy. Congress took a momentous step forward by passing the American Rescue Plan, but we need permanent care solutions, including national and permanent access to paid leave, affordable child care and in-home elder care, and fair wages and protections for caregivers. This approach has broad bipartisan support, with not only 9 out of 10 Democratic voters but also 8 out of 10 Republican voters expressing support in a recent Time’s Up survey.
- Close the gender and racial pay gap. Another Time’s Up survey conducted in the midst of the economic shutdown found that both men and women agree the gender pay gap must be closed — even during the pandemic. The consequences of the pay gap are life-long: women overall lose nearly half a million dollars over the course of their career due to the pay gap, with Black and Latina women losing close to one million dollars over the course of their careers. In response, Time’s Up created new tools to help employers take concrete steps to advance gender and racial equity in their workplaces, from pay transparency to changes in recruitment and hiring.
- Create high-quality, good-paying jobs. If we want to rebuild our economy on a strong foundation, we need to ensure that everyone can experience safe, fair, and dignified work — especially women and people of color, who are often the most vulnerable. We must offer living wages and eliminate the tipped-minimum wage that leads to the exploitation of women around the country. And we must ensure predictable schedules and fair pay. The long-term consequences of women exiting the workforce will be devastating for the financial and retirement stability of women and our families.
- Ensure worker safety on the job. No industry is immune, but low-wage workers, women of color, and LGBTQ+ workers are particularly impacted, often facing the most harassment and discrimination — on top of the harshest working conditions. And more than 7 out of 10 people who reported sexual harassment at the workplace said they faced some form of retaliation, up to and including being fired, according to a recent report from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, housed at the National Women’s Law Center. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund can help. If you work in entertainment, Time’s Up also has updated resources with information about your rights, industry-specific norms, and practical ways you can advocate for yourself and your safety.
We are at a historic moment of change, one in which employers, workers, and policymakers are joining together to actively address the safety, fairness, and dignity at work. We cannot ignore the damage and lasting impact this pandemic has had on women.
As we reflect on a year like no other, there are initiatives that we must enact coming out of this to better the lives of women. In fact, at this inflection point in our economic future, investing in care is one of the best policy choices we can make.