Over thirty million men and women in the United States have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic. As unemployment rates continue to soar, women, and notably women of color, have been disproportionately affected by changes in the job market. In fact, some economists have been driven to call the current crisis a “she-cession.”
Traditionally, women have received lower pay than their male counterparts, “placing women at an even greater risk of losing jobs in service sectors that have been charged with closing shop due to the country’s current climate.” The irony lies in the fact that most female-dominated jobs are essential services, including healthcare and childcare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the industries that have been hit the hardest include leisure and hospitality, restaurants and bars, education and health services, trade jobs, and government employment jobs. A majority of these industries are female-dominated. As a result, “although women have made up 49% of the overall workforce, they have accounted for 55% of the job losses…erasing a decade of substantial job gains for women nationwide.”
In addition to the disproportionate gender divide, a racial disparity persists between different female groups. Notably, Black women face an unemployment rate of 16.4% whereas the rate for women overall is lower, at 15.5%. Moreover, Black adults are twice as likely to be laid off or furloughed as White adults. According to a study by Fortune, 24% of Black workers say they have lost their job compared with 20% of Hispanic works, 19% of Asian workers, and 11% of white workers. The rise in disproportionate job loss “highlights the great constraints placed on women, which are compounded by the heavy influences of socio-economic disparities and the lingering effects of traditional gender role divides.”
The disparity in job loss for women and women of color is alarming, as they are “not only suffering more economic damages now; but are likely to continue to suffer into the future.” Furloughs, layoffs, and pay cuts all have the potential to disrupt years’ worth of progress in regards to diversity and gender roles. Working remotely has disadvantaged women, as many are faced with childcare obligations in addition to professional responsibility now that children are required to stay home from school. Researchers have found that in physical meetings, women of color are interrupted three times more frequently than men. When working remotely through videoconference meetings, these tendencies are amplified because women may not use their body language or other signals to have their voices heard. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the fact that many women of color must “navigate different biases in the workplace that affect their ability to find, retain, and succeed in a job.”
Within the entertainment industry, the non-profit organization Women in Film (WIF) in partnership with New York Women in Film & Television and Women in Film and Television Atlanta launched a campaign to push for gender and racial equality in the film and television industries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The organization’s “Hire Her Back” initiative brings light to how job losses have disproportionately impacted women of color. The goal of the initiative is to urge employers to rehire Black women at the same rate as men in the industry. The Executive Director of WIF, Kirsten Schaffer, called on industry leaders to “join us in building a new normal that prioritizes equity and career sustainability for women, especially Women of Color, in the screen industries.” The movement comes at a time when there has been an increase in the number of women working behind and in front of the camera. It is imperative not to “lose this important momentum.”
Now more than ever, the nation’s heightened uncertainty in the labor market only increases the need for proactive efforts to combat discriminatory practices. Accordingly, policymakers, industry leaders, and executives “must center women of color in the ongoing discussions about the full range of interventions needed.”
Sabrina Fani is a second-year student at Loyola Law School concentrating in Business and Entertainment Law.