Women, the Pandemic, and How Non-Profits are Pivoting to Support Them

Mar 26, 2021

In 1987, the US declared March as Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, we remember women who blazed the trail in the fight for equal rights. We celebrate their achievements, and we reflect on the work that still needs to be done to ensure equality and opportunity.

Women are no stranger to overcoming hardships, but the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare a new set of challenges. We want to acknowledge these hardships and recognize that non-profit organizations have stepped up in new ways to support women during this difficult time.

Pandemic Layoffs and Women

The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, but particularly on women. In 2020, 5.4 million women lost work, more than the 4.4 million jobs lost by men. This is despite women making up less than half of US labor force. Clearly, woman-filled jobs have borne an outsized share of the brunt of the pandemic.

The reason lies in the three industries of food, retail, and hospitality. They each were hit particularly hard by the economic shutdowns, and they also happen to employ 40% of all women in the US labor force. The subsequent mass layoffs in these industries hit women especially hard.

Overall, pandemic-related job loss is worsening the poverty crisis. An expected 47 million women are believed to be pushed into poverty, a staggering sum, with women aged 25-34 being hit the hardest. These are the women most in need of non-profit support, and efforts by the non-profit community have made a huge humanitarian difference.

Beyond Just Job Losses

Because of the nature of their representation in the labor market, women were destined to be hurt by the pandemic, but there’s more to the story than job loss. For those fortunate enough to keep their jobs, the results haven’t been so great, either.

Women are also more likely than men to be burdened with domestic work and unpaid care, and with so many children unable to attend school or day care, it is women who have had to leave work to fulfill these duties. A recent survey found that one in four women are considering downsizing their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. Women also make up the majority of single parent households, creating a nearly impossible situation for single working mothers during this time.

Providing Support

Many organizations have shifted gears to provide much needed support to women facing pandemic-induced hardships.

With significant job loss, we see a whole new set of challenges as basic needs are now put in jeopardy. Elaine Spaull, Executive Director at the Center for Youth in Rochester, New York says that food insecurity was one of the biggest issues she saw young women and families face during the pandemic.

Elaine remarked, “Delivering food to youth living in transitional housing became our daily routine. We experienced a level of generosity across this community when it came to providing food, diapers, household supplies and gift cards. We found our prayers were answered and that dozens of deliveries would come in through Instacart or drop off of food items. Our team would identify the greatest needs and bring those resources to the family so that they were not exposed nor had to travel with young children.”

For those who have their basic needs met, re-employment is proving to be a big challenge. Maranne McDade Clay, Executive Director of the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley said that in an effort to combat the inequitable burden women, particularly low-income women and female business owners, are shouldering through the Covid-19 pandemic, their Board of the Directors committed to fully funding its annual grant awards program to provide resources for women and girls where they are needed most. As significant job loss occurred in leisure, hospitality, health, and education service sectors - where jobs are comprised primarily of female workers – the foundation pivoted its funding. “Grant support for Employment Training and Job Readiness and Entrepreneurship were increased by 31% and 13% respectively, reflecting 60% of the Foundation’s total grantmaking in 2021. The effort to anticipate the need women in the region will have for job training programs, and to foster and encourage continued investment in female entrepreneurship.”

She added that, “Nationwide, as hundreds of thousands of women have left the workforce to care for children learning remotely at home, female entrepreneurs are on the rise. Whether providing extra income through a “side-gig”, or offering increased flexibility and control over the work space, women are quickly evolving and adapting to meet the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has, unfairly and inequitably, placed at their feet.”

Dress for Success, a global organization that has been helping women get jobs for two decades, responded to the crisis by pivoting their operations. The organization now offers virtual coaching, networking, and workshops, with the goal of not only helping women gain skills to acquire jobs, but also to combat the isolation brought on by the pandemic. Many branches have also launched a curbside fashion mobile unit that allows the organization to provide contactless suiting to clients for in-person or virtual job interviews.

While the vaccine rollout appears to be a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, we know that the hardships women are experiencing during the pandemic won’t go away with the prick of a needle. We recognize that many organizations have stepped up to support these issues that have been overlooked by many. The ability to pivot and provide the support women need most is valued and celebrated in the month of March and every day.

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Sources: Center for American Progress, Catalyst.org, UN Women, and CNBC.

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