Women in the Workplace

July 2, 2021 • Volume 31, Issue 24
Can new policies to support families increase participation?
By Ruth Terry


The pandemic magnified pre-existing obstacles to women's full and equitable participation in the workforce, including the unequal distribution of household labor, a persistent gender wage gap, hard-to-afford child care and the lack of paid leave. Lockdowns and social distancing gutted the sectors women are most likely to work in, such as retail and hospitality. At the same time, child care availability decreased, driving up its already expensive cost. The result: a “shecession” in which 5.4 million women exited the workforce, many to take care of their children. Amid the pandemic, however, many employers pivoted to more flexible and family-friendly working arrangements. President Biden introduced legislation intended to improve women's labor force participation, in part by providing more affordable child care. Experts say it will not be easy implementing these policies or making them permanent. But without long-term solutions to make child care affordable, paid parental leave and organizational cultures that support women, gender inequalities in the workforce will persist — and future shecessions may be unavoidable.

Photo of an eighth grader participating in a Zoom class with her teacher in Wellsville, New York, on January 6, 2021. (Getty Images/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Barrie Fanton)
An eighth grader participates in a Zoom class with her teacher in Wellsville, N.Y. During the pandemic, some 5.4 million women left the workforce, many to care for children as schools and day care centers closed. (Getty Images/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Barrie Fanton)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Women and Work
Jul. 02, 2021  Women in the Workplace
Nov. 08, 2019  The Gender Pay Gap
Oct. 27, 2017  Workplace Sexual Harassment
Jul. 26, 2013  Women and Work
Apr. 14, 2006  Future of Feminism
Apr. 04, 2003  Mothers' Movement
Sep. 25, 1992  Women in the Military
May 10, 1985  Women's Economic Equity
Jul. 10, 1981  Women in the Military
Mar. 20, 1981  Equal Pay Fight
Jul. 04, 1980  Women in the Executive Suite
Jul. 13, 1979  Two-Income Families
Feb. 18, 1977  Women in the Work Force
Feb. 13, 1957  Woman's Place in the Economy
Apr. 22, 1944  Women Workers After the War
Jan. 26, 1942  Women in War Work
Jul. 13, 1926  Sex Equality and Protective Laws
Civil Rights Movement
Congress Actions
Data and Statistics
Diversity Issues
Early Childhood Education
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Education Policy
Employee Benefits
Equal Employment Opportunity & Discrimination
General Employment and Labor
General Social Trends
Infectious Diseases
Internet and Social Media
Labor Standards and Practices
Party Politics
Powers and History of the Presidency
Telecommunications and Wireless Technologies
Unemployment and Employment Programs
Women in the Workplace
Work and the Family
Workplace Safety and Worker's Compensation