Women have always been treated unequally in the workplace and in the labor market. And yet astoundingly, rather than recede, the barriers facing working women have grown in recent years. The root of this giant step back for women’s equality appears to be largely a combination of the pandemic plus a rise in toxic political rhetoric, though other factors may also be playing a role. Whatever the ultimate root causes, we won’t settle for women as second-class citizens in the workplace.
The Pandemic Has Disproportionately Hurt Women
When the pandemic hit, millions of men and women left the U.S. labor force. But men have recouped all their job losses. Women, on the other hand, are still behind to the tune of 1.8 million jobs, according to the National Women’s Law Center. As Emily Martin, Vice-President of the NWLC explains it, “Part of the reason for this is because women still hold the lion's share of caregiver responsibilities."
Martin, speaking to the Society for Human Resource Management, underscored the fact that the pandemic isn’t over, and this has set women back considerably:
Two years into the pandemic, that instability continues as kids are out of school or care for weeks at a time due to quarantine," Martin said. "Women are still the ones that are likely to step in to fill the gap."
Old Assumptions are New Again
The good news is that more women are in leadership positions than ever before. In theory, this leveling of the playing field should be a catalyst for a reduction in inequality. But that’s not what’s happened. Indeed, as more women have attained the top rungs of the corporate ladder, trust in women as leaders has fallen.
According to the BBC, which cited data from the Reykjavik Index for Leadership:
Across the G7 nations, which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, fewer than half of respondents (47%) said they were “‘very comfortable” having a woman as CEO of a major company in their country, down from 54% a year earlier.
Explanations vary for this decline. Some experts believe the pandemic reinforced traditional notions of gender. Thus, with the bulk of the child-care burden falling on women, old assumptions about gender roles may have been hardened. Another theory put forward by experts is that crises like the pandemic ignite a “preference for the familiar”—and that has meant a bias for men in leadership positions at the expense of women.
Then there is the political climate. Misogyny existed before Donald Trump, of course, but his rise seems to have made contempt for women more socially acceptable. Adding fuel to the sexist fire is social media, where women are constantly subjected to threats, bullying, and violent language. It should not come as a surprise that all this rhetoric has come with consequences in terms of how women are treated—and how they’re seen as leaders in the workforce.
We are Committed to Systemic Change
The data continue to indicate systemic challenges for women in the workplace. One reason Change Finance often approaches social issues through cross-portfolio shareholder advocacy is because these issues so often are systemic. They are not confined to a few bad actors. Rather, they are reflected throughout our economy. To gain traction, we must make systemic change-- not just at one or two companies, but broadly across many companies and industries. Women deserve better, and we’re committed to making that a reality.