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The term “Shesession” describes pandemic’s effect on women

🕐 5 min read

BROOKE GOGGANS

and SUSAN K. MEDINA

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we have (begrudgingly) accepted social distancing, virtual school/work and social gatherings with face masks a part of our reality. The troubling trends of 2020 have resulted in a wobbly start to 2021 for many of us.

You may have seen, back in November, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) reported nearly 2.2 million women had left the workforce since February 2020. By December, the NWLC reported that women accounted for all 140,000 job losses that month.

These statistics have birthed a new term “Shesession,” coined to encompass the acute negative impacts the pandemic has had on women, most notably the loss of work and family-related choices and resources.

When it comes to the lion’s share of jobs women perform, we are often less senior, thus more expendable and make less money than our male counterparts.

As if this weren’t enough, we are typically the primary caregiver in the home, even in two-parent households, with women performing three hours of domestic work compared to one hour of domestic work performed by men daily.

Considering all of these dynamics and then some, the pandemic has forced women to leave their careers in droves.

A brief history lesson: It’s only been 100 years since women were given the right to vote; the first major step toward equality. After decades of women’s suffrage and fighting to have an equal voice, the 19th Amendment was ratified on Aug. 26, 1920, although most Black women would still be denied that right well into the 20th century.

And while much as changed since then, too much has not. To say that women have lost footing as a result of the pandemic is an undebatable understatement.

By the numbers, from a recent New York Times article and other sources:

• 4,637,000 – total payroll jobs lost by women in the U.S. since March 2020 compared with 3,829,000 men

• 69% vs 51% – the number of mothers versus fathers who say they’ve experienced adverse health effects – difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, overeating, frequent headaches due to worry and stress

• Men were more likely than women to work in a home office – women by contrast were more likely to work at the kitchen table – where they could be interrupted at any moment by children or household needs

• 700% – the increase in calls to the crisis hotline for working parents at the Center for WorkLife Law since the pandemic began

• 1 in 4 children have experienced food insecurity in 2020, an increase of almost 5% since 2018, a rise that is intimately related to the loss of maternal income

• Current trends show a regression for women’s equality in education and employment opportunities by 25 years Even before the extraordinary pressures of 2020, women have been navigating unfavorable career pathways for decades, unrealistic family leave policies (or no policy at all) faced with inconvenient or expensive childcare options, pay inequity, discrimination and other educational or professional development options.

Considering 63% of American families have two working parents, the burden to make meaningful financial contributions while also carrying the load of being primary caregiver is unrealistic for most women. Today, it feels like we have fallen off the mountain.

However, 2020 has created some positive shifts in the workplace.

Employers and employees have been forced to reimagine the “workday,” with unintended benefits for women and families: flexible schedules being most notable.

While many of us have already been working what we call the “5th shift,” (getting our computers out after putting the kids to bed), many, more realistic employers have accepted productivity is not reduced to 9-5 and provided flexibility for employees beyond typical work hours.

Further pulling back the curtain on the work/life (im)balance, how many of you have had a little one “video bomb” your Zoom call or heard the pitter patter of little feet – or violin practice! – in the background of your conference call?

Our children and families are no longer visually well-behaved framed pictures on our desks. We’re seeing our employees, clients and colleagues as real people with bigger lives beyond the office (gasp!). And that’s a good thing.

As co-chairs of the United Way of Tarrant County Women United, we have spent this very unique year putting a magnifying glass on the issues unique to women in our community.

We have awarded financial grants to nonprofits whose work directly impacts women, children and families in Tarrant County.

As a part of this work, we also have the honor of co-chairing an upcoming “Investing in Impact” luncheon on May 13, 2021 where we will celebrate 10 years of Women United marking positive change for women and girls, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Our keynote speaker will be Emily Ramshaw, the highly lauded founder of the 19th, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting at the intersection of women, politics and policy and the former editor of the Texas Tribune.

Ramshaw is the youngest board member of the Pulitzer Prize, a wife and mother. She is inarguably qualified to provide context to this unique moment in time.

The months ahead will be long, rocky and unpredictable, but not impossible. We all have a role to play in shaping a functional and equitable society. Just like the suffragettes 100 years ago, we can and will do this. Together, we will make it back up the mountain, one step at a time.

Brooke Goggans and Susan K. Medina are the co-chairs of Women United of the United Way of Tarrant County.

For more information on United Way of Tarrant County programs and services, visit www.unitedwaytarrant.org

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