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Direct Financial Support, Access to Male-Dominated Jobs, and Investing in Child Care Can Increase Women's Participation in Post-COVID Workforce, Says New Expert Consultation - National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Over the course of the pandemic, 2.5 million women left the job market, compared with 1.8 million men. Mothers, Black and Hispanic women, low-income workers, workers without college-level education, and those in service occupations were highly affected by closures and economic shifts. Among mothers and fathers who kept their jobs, mothers bore a larger share of child care responsibilities — with 36 percent saying they had a lot of child care responsibilities on top of their paid employment while working from home, compared with only 16 percent of fathers. Added responsibilities and roles have led to increased burnout and stress and may have long-term effects on women’s career trajectories and mental health. In April 2020, close to half of all mothers of school-age children reported at least some symptoms of psychological distress.

Short-term Strategies to Address the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women’s Workforce Participation outlines key actions for decision-makers to consider including in short-term recovery efforts to mitigate harm to women and increase women’s employment:

  • Provide direct financial support for women and their families. Targeted and direct financial support to women who have lost their jobs or decreased their work hours can help address the economic costs of the pandemic, by helping families meet basic needs such as food and housing. Targeting cash incentives for women who wish to return to work could spur recovery.
  • Promote women’s access to traditionally male-dominated jobs. State and local decision-makers can start investing in education, apprenticeships, and recruitment for women in jobs and sectors dominated by men — such as trades or construction. Women are underrepresented in these jobs, which are often well-paid.
  • Introduce policies that support families. Policies such as paid family leave, flexible schedules, and remote work options can enable women with caregiving demands to continue or return to work in the short term. Research shows policies that reduce the unpredictability of work — such as requiring advance notice of shift scheduling or working late — can support women. Increased flexibility is also important for reducing the gender gap.
  • Invest in the child care system. The pandemic forced many child care providers to temporarily or permanently close. Because the majority of the child care workforce are women, increasing child care spending subsidies to boost compensation for child care workers can boost women’s employment and remove barriers for mothers reentering the workforce.
  • Provide access to mental health services. Mental health support can help employees who have suffered significant stress and disruption caused by the pandemic, and may assist in the retention of women workers considering dropping out of the labor market due to COVID-19-related impacts.
  • Invest in workforce development and education. Workforce development programs can boost remote or telework skills, give women the opportunity to change professions, or enable women to gain new skills while they work, bolstering short-term economic recovery efforts.

Undertaken by the Societal Experts Action Network, Short-term Strategies to Address the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women’s Workforce Participation was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The National Academies are a private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

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