Reflecting on women in the workforce

Eugenie Chang, Viewpoint Editor

Each year, Women’s History Month features a prevalent theme selected by the National Women’s History Alliance that best encompasses the overarching events of the year. The 2022 theme “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” recognizes the accomplishments and efforts of women all across the nation towards fighting the pandemic in addition to their significant contributions throughout history. 

This year, the message is especially meaningful in light of the significant decline of women in the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. As this year’s theme serves as a recognition of the essential roles women hold in our society, it also sheds light on the difficulties women face in both returning to and staying in the workforce, the source of which stems from inexcusable gender disparities still existing today. These difficulties can be overcome by increasing support for all women regardless of education level or career and actively promoting efforts to help them return to the workforce. 

The pandemic has drastically changed the makeup of our workforce, especially affecting specific areas of the labor force which require more in-person contact. Now, even as people begin to regain their jobs, it is increasingly evident that job loss has disproportionately affected many careers dominated by women, such as childcare and nursing, as well as many women with lower educational levels. 

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, “From the third quarter of 2019 to the same quarter of 2021, the number of women in the labor force who are not high school graduates decreased 12.8%, dwarfing the 4.9% contraction among comparably educated men… Among the labor force with at least some amount of education beyond high school, women have fared at least as well as men.”

While the larger decrease of women with lower education levels from the labor force as compared to their male counterparts is already a product of gender disparities, their slow return to the workforce is also undeniably a reflection of the lack of support workers in lower-paying positions receive. Much of the focus of gender equality in the workforce centers on the wage gap and benefits for college-educated women and white-collar positions—not enough weight is placed on the wellbeing and support necessary for women and men in lower-paying industries.

In addition, the influence of societal norms which dictate that women should play a more prominent role in the household have resurfaced during the pandemic. By actively countering the mindset that women should play a greater role in the home as opposed to the labor force, society as a whole can combat the loss of women from the workforce and their slow return. Increasing childcare support for working mothers, providing mental health support to deal with burnout and changing the working environment to become more flexible with changing schedules are all actions that must be taken if we are to keep women in the workforce. 

This March, as we celebrate the innumerable contributions of women towards the success of our nation, let us honor these women not only through our words, but our actions. Enabling women to excel in our workforce by taking measures to ensure their success and equality among male counterparts gives hope to girls growing up all over the world that their aspirations are within reach. Women have been providing hope by serving as role models for centuries, we must now make sure that hope reflects in our workforce as well.