The Pandemic Fuels Gender Inequality in the Labor Force

Panelists at a meeting about gender pay gap and equity in 2019

Business Insider & Stephen Maturen

Panelists at a meeting about gender pay gap and equity in 2019

Corporate America is at a dire crossroads with an imminent threat to gender equality, as millions of women have dropped out of the labor force. The National Women’s Law center reports that in January 2021, 275,000 more women left their jobs; bringing the total number of women to do so since February 2020 to 2.3 million. 

The 2020 report of Women in the Workplace by McKinsey & Company and Lean In found that, “1 in 4 women are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable less than a year ago: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce.”

Senior Director of the legal contracting group for a global research organization, Alice Batts, describes, “I have considered shifting jobs to find something that was less stressful than my current position. It is hard to work full-time, while having to manage at home responsibilities, like keeping the house clean, doing yard work, and shuffling kids around to their activities.”

The report also states, “Companies risk losing women in leadership—and future women leaders—and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity.”

While the pandemic has begun pushing everyone—not just women—over the edge, the gender-inequity issues that have been prevalent before COVID-19 have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

One of the biggest factors fueling gender inequality in the workplace is the wage pay gap. There have been a multitude of historical leaps taken by people like Ruth Bater Ginsburg and other activists to implement equal pay rights, but disparities still exist. 

Data from the US Census Bureau says that on average in 2018, a woman working full time made 81.6 cents for every dollar a man working full time earned. The U.S. gender wage pay gap is an average 18.9%– with variants in each state. 

For instance, the biggest gap according to the data was Wyoming with 30.9% and the smallest being in California with 12.2%. 

The kicker is, on average, women are more educated than men. The National Center for Education Statistics found that women earned more than half of bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorate degrees. Yet there is still an evident gender pay gap, and it is even more prevalent when you take a look at the statistics regarding women of color. 

White men make up the largest demographic segment of the workforce, and when comparing their annual earnings to specifically black and hispanic women, the results are staggering. 

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey data shows median earnings for full-time, year-round employees 16 and over. Asian women have the smallest wage gap, where they earn 97% of what white men do. The gap for white women is about 20%, while black women earn 66% and Hispanic women earn 58%, a pay gap of 42%. 

It has also been proven that many women struggle with asking for higher pay. In fact, a survey by Glassdoor revealed that 68% of women accepted the salary they were offered without negotiating–compared to 52% by men.

When asked if she would negotiate or accept the initial salary offered when applying for a job, Spartan Sophomore, Cate Hawting affirms, “To be honest, I’d probably only negotiate if I knew I was being severely underpaid for the position I was being offered.” She continues, “I don’t love confrontation or making people upset, especially people I don’t know, so it’s not super likely I’d negotiate.”

Similarly, Sanderson Freshman, Annabelle Burdette states, “I would try to negotiate the salary some to make sure I was being treated equally and fairly. But at the same time, I would be scared that because I was trying to negotiate too much, I would not be hired.”

The same survey showed that only 1 in 10 U.S. employees have successfully negotiated their salary, and men being three times more likely to do so. Among these employees, 15% of men were able to gain an increased salary, with just 4% for women. 

Another key aspect of gender inequality is that women are promoted less often than men– despite being more educated and making up nearly half of the workforce. According to less than 5% of women are CEOs and less than 10 percent of women are top earners in the S&P 500. 

In response, Batts expresses, “I think women feel like they have less opportunity to climb the ladder and that it is important for females to look for a company that has women in leadership positions so they can envision themselves attaining those roles.”

It is important to note that these statistics can vary by industry. Batts described that in her legal field there are many women in leadership positions. Whereas if you look at STEM fields, such aerospace engineering or software developers, those are mainly dominated by men. 

Still, the lack of female role models in executive or high level positions makes the concept of being promoted seem unreachable to women and to younger generations. 

Burdette responds to lack of females in CEO positions. She states, “This statistic affects the way I see my future in the workplace because I usually will set realistic goals for myself, and ones that seem likely. When I see a number this low, it makes me think I will never be able to have a job like a CEO.”

Hawting elucidates that it is paramount to have women in leadership and she does so by explaining two key points: “Firstly for representation. Human beings naturally feel more comfortable around people similar to themselves, meaning that more female leaders could have a huge impact on other working women.”

She proceeds, “Secondly, I think it is important to have more women as leaders to break the association of femininity with weakness or naiveness. I personally have restrained myself from doing things that are considered more ‘feminine’ such as wearing makeup for fear that people would take me less seriously or think I was less intelligent.”

As one can gather, the things happening in Corporate America today have an extreme effect on young adults and future leaders who aspire to resolve the inequities, inequalities, and even stereotypes prevalent in the working sector. It is pertinent to face these facts in order to promote change.

While some of these statistics can be disheartening and surprising to read, in no way should the positive steps being taken be downplayed. There are also a plethora of solutions that can be provided and implemented into company policy to help bridge the gap and enforce better benefits for female employees. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in January 2021, women gained 87,000 jobs. While many who left at the beginning of the pandemic haven’t returned, experts report new policies regarding increased paid parental leave, child care support, and other pro-family policies could help shoulder some of those demands.

Batts has a message for young adults: 

“Anybody who works hard and wants to succeed has the opportunity to do well. It is important to understand what you want and know what path you want to take. Do your research and always be willing to learn. You need to demonstrate that you have the ability to plan, strategize, and elevate your work in order to move up the ladder in your career or if you are going to ask for a raise. Communication skills are pertinent, because people take notice of the tone that you use with internal and external customers. Learn how to resolve conflicts and have emotional intelligence.”

Students will benefit from gaining these comprehensive skills and by discovering their aptitudes. Doing these things, as Batts describes, will propel everyone forward; effort and demonstration of character will be recognized.