As a woman who was laid off during the pandemic, it’s sometimes hard to ignore the feeling of being left behind. This is only amplified by the fact that the world shut down in the middle of my college career. I was a junior when the pandemic began, and it was the year I had planned on grabbing that dream internship in Manhattan or Philadelphia (both cities are relatively short commutes from my house). Of course, the business world adapted to virtual productivity during the lockdown, but this didn’t extend to the hiring sphere. Sure, most of the internships floating around LinkedIn and Indeed are remote, but you still need the credentials to get through the door.
Last year, I hoped to really bulk up the resume, but then COVID-19 happened. And it wasn’t just about adding jobs below my name. Remote work is essential and necessary, but what can beat the memories and real experiences you gain from a traditional, in-person internship experience?
Yes, 2020 was the year many of us were supposed to get our foot in the door… and we’re all feeling a little robbed. Early professionals, students, minorities, and—notably—women were the largest group of people to be laid off during the pandemic.
Despite COVID-19 throwing a wrench in my plans (like many), I can’t deny that I was one of the lucky ones. I got laid off, but I was fortunate enough to be re-employed by my company once businesses were allowed to open at the end of spring 2020.
Other women who were laid off find themselves still unemployed. Entering the job market, which is hurting along with the rest of the business world, is rough, to say the least. In harder-hit countries like Italy, for example, the economy crumbled from repeated lockdowns with 456,000 jobs lost in 2020. Women accounted for 249,000 of those jobs lost. But re-entering the workforce after the pandemic, women continue to struggle with discrimination as well.
In an interview with AP News, Laura Taddeo, a bilingual Italian woman with a Master’s in Tourism, described the unique hurdles that women face during interviews.
“It’s not, ‘What have you studied? What languages do you speak?’ but ‘Do you have a family? Do you intend to have children?’” Taddeo said.
In 2021, it’s hard to believe that women still have to overcome gender stereotypes in rebuilding their careers—but here we are. Sociologist Chiara Saraceno attributes this to old-fashioned views on gender roles that may still exist. “It’s not so much that women shouldn’t work, but they shouldn’t neglect the household,” Saraceno told AP News. “That’s the responsibility of women.”
In the U.S., women are also having a hard time taking back control. In fact, women were making some serious strides in the professional world pre-COVID. Right before the virus was detected in the country, women in the U.S. accounted for more than 50% of the workforce—a historical record, as this is the only time in our history that it had happened outside of a recession. But this changed during the pandemic, especially since those affected by unemployment were already surrounded by distinct disadvantages. Black women, women in senior management, and working moms considered downsizing their careers or leaving the workforce entirely in 2020 due to the extra pressures caused by the pandemic.
My childcare costs actually exceed my paycheck. We're working on moving somewhere cheaper, but this isn't sustainable, and childcare costs are rising. The "normal" being advocated by Vance et al is a pretty clear project of keeping mothers out of the workplace. (im a mom btw)
— Kelly Weill (@KELLYWEILL) April 29, 2021
Earlier this year, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris described women’s unemployment in the U.S. as a national emergency. During a virtual event with female leaders, Harris said, “Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can participate fully.” According to Forbes, 5.3 million women lost their jobs since February 2020.
In addition to the economic impacts, unemployment has especially hurt individuals due to pay gaps and the disproportionate way women represent low-wage jobs. Getting laid off was the icing on the cake for these large percentages of women workers; those who held low-wage jobs didn’t have the luxury of continuing their responsibilities remotely.
“Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can participate fully.”
— VP Kamala Harris at roundtable today with multicultural women leaders to discuss getting millions of women laid off by COVID back to work! https://t.co/TXBZDEhy1a
— Madam Vice President Harris is GOAT! (@flywithkamala) February 18, 2021
Ending lockdowns is important for so many more reasons than re-opening businesses. The recent protests against COVID-19 restrictions in Rome exemplify this; restaurant workers and other business workers demanded to be allowed to work after a year of back-and-forth between lockdowns and openings. It was because of these protests, in my opinion, that most regions in the country finally went from red to yellow zones at the end of April instead of the lockdown period extending indefinitely (red zones have the tightest lockdown restrictions, orange zones with medium risk have fewer rules, and yellow zones are relatively free with outdoor dining and other business allowed to re-open). Shifting unemployed women back to work will impact the future of so many lives, something that has been upended in the last year.
Women re-seizing the progress they’ve made in the professional world is more important than ever before. It starts with more than putting in the extra elbow grease at virtual job fairs. There’s disproportionality that must be addressed, an issue that COVID-19 has only exacerbated.
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