Recessions come and go; she-cessions last...forever? Let’s hope not!
From the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was quickly evident that women would be disproportionately affected. For one thing, women are more likely to work in the industries hardest hit—education, hospitality, healthcare—three industries that make up 47% of jobs for women
. Women are also more likely to take on the additional caregiving and household duties that the pandemic required, becoming instant homeschool facilitators; Zoom conference managers; breakfast, lunch, and dinner makers; quasi-hall monitors; truant officers; janitors; social workers; therapists; and cheerleaders.
“I am woman. Hear me roar,” became “I am woman. Hear me snore”—except we weren’t actually sleeping.
Instead, we were juggling multiple roles in both our professional and personal lives, and the term “she-cession” entered our vocabulary, describing what we were experiencing: an economic downturn where job and income loss affects women more than men.
The she-cession is real. The Bureau of Labor Statistics
reports that the workforce lost 1.6 million women between February 2020 and June 2021. Underscoring that dismal reality is a study by the National Women’s Law Center
that showed women’s labor force participation was at an all-time low: 57.5% in June 2021, a low that has not been reached since June 1989. Pay disparity between men and women is only made worse by the she-cession. According to Payscale
, a woman in 2021 earns, on average, 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The number is less for women of color.
And yet, according to S&P Global
, research shows that “When women are active participants in the workforce, they have more money with which to invest, and we see that in the form of a measurable market impact. With an increase in American female labor force participation alone, research shows that the acceleration to American GDP growth could add $5.87 trillion to global market capitalization over the next 10 years.” And that’s just the impact in the U.S. alone.
So how can we help women navigate the she-cession, for the sake of women in the workforce and overall economic development? I asked top women leaders for their advice:
“It is critical for women that we integrate networking into our weekly workflow.”
Jung noticed that networking, for many women, becomes deprioritized compared to other personal and professional responsibilities, yet it should really be looked at as just another part of the job.
“Most people will not get their career opportunities from recruiters like myself,” she says. “The majority get jobs through their ‘loose’ connections, meaning via introductions through their direct network of work, alumni, or friends.” Because of that, she stresses that it is important to carve out time on a weekly basis to reach out to one’s network and grab a Zoom or in-person coffee.
“If you are looking for a new job or board opportunity,” says Jung, “state your intentions and ask if there is anyone in their network they think you should speak with.” She also recommends, as a best practice, to always ask if there is something you can do for them. “A spirit of generosity is cumulative and bi-directional,” she adds, “and creates a flywheel network effect that will pay back future dividends. Keep the network warm so when you need to activate it for a job change or new role, you have current connections.”
Pause, Redirect, and Cut Yourself Some Slack!
“If you are feeling compelled to change direction, follow your gut, ask your trusted circle to help you pivot, and go for it.”
- Marjorie Hsu
, Chairman of the Board of the Asian American Federation (AAF)
Hsu says that 2020 gave her the pause to better understand and appreciate what she truly valued in her life. “Emerging from a global pandemic seems as good a time as any to set an audacious goal,” she says, but with a caveat. For the young working moms that she mentors, Hsu recommends that they give themselves some slack. “We hold ourselves to impossible standards and during this past year, it was truly impossible to homeschool while working from home.”
She underscores the importance of prioritizing self-care, which allows the refresh button to be hit. “Whether it’s more downtime, more screen time, or more cookies, it’ll all be fine as long as you’re taking care of yourself so you can take care of everyone else.”
Support the Rise of Women to Leadership Roles.
“Each female, including myself, has had to make decisions and sacrifices to navigate the balancing act of personal and professional priorities.”
- Shweta Maniar
, Global Leader, Healthcare & Life Sciences Solutions, Google Cloud - BioPharma at Google
Maniar finds that it is more important than ever to support the growth of women into more senior roles and to have more of a voice—especially during a time when companies are in the process of revising their policies to support a more flexible work environment in this new era of hybrid work. Doing so will affect generations to come.
Have more tips on what has worked for you or others in your network? Please share them in the comments below! As Shweta encouragingly told me in our interview, “Together, we can minimize the impact of the she-session.”