Today, on International Women’s Day (March 8, 2021), we honor the centuries-long plight of women around the world, from women’s suffrage to #MeToo, and everything in between. The theme for this year’s women’s day is #ChooseToChallenge, based on the premise that from challenge comes change. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequalities. We can also choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. At Amalgamated Bank, we always choose to challenge social inequalities and injustices.
In recent years, the fight for gender equality has made enormous strides. We have continuously challenged the socially constructed way of thinking about the roles and supposedly “inherent” qualities of men and women, so much so that the question of gender itself as a binary classification of “men” and “women” has been deconstructed to allow for a more inclusive way of thinking about gender identity.
Unfortunately, in the past year, the progress that had been made to break the glass ceiling took a few steps backwards. Throughout the pandemic crisis, women took the brunt of the economic impact. Women were more likely to leave their jobs and give up their careers to stay home and care for family members or homeschool their children. 527 million women (41% of the total female workforce as opposed to 35% of the male workforce) work in the four hardest hit sectors, unsuitable for remote working: accommodation and food services, real estate, business and administrative activities, manufacturing, and wholesale/retail trade. Approximately 5.5 million women lost their jobs since the start of this pandemic, whereas men lost approximately 4.4 million over the same period.1 In December 2020 alone, 150,000 jobs were lost in America and 100% of them were held by women.2 The “she-cession” is very real, especially while companies and organizations around the world continue to see diversity and inclusion as a secondary business objective, or to put it bluntly: not a priority during a crisis.
While millions of women lost their jobs, millions more were working on the front lines, keeping our cities and nations alive and moving. Women represent 70% of the global health workforce.1 Our education system is also predominantly run by women. In the meantime, women remain in the role of primary caregiver in the average household, with various at-home responsibilities on top of paid workload.
The data is truly staggering. Women are not only working in more critically challenging roles given this current context, but they are also more likely to lose their jobs and their salary while doing it. This sets the feminist agenda back about 30 years. Getting women’s employment back on track should now be at the forefront of feminist efforts. Moreover, with women contributing 37% of the global GDP,1 it is essential to our economic recovery to ensure that women remain an active part of the global workforce.
On the other hand, this pandemic has also provided an opportunity for women in leadership positions to rise to the occasion—and that they did! Many studies have shown that women-led responses to the pandemic have been the most effective in slowing down the rate of infection and number of deaths in different countries around the world.3 Aside from national leadership, women have also played a lead role in the science and medical sectors. This past year has shown that success is more likely achieved with women around the decision-making table. Women bring a unique perspective, especially when it comes to problem solving, as women have been positioned to think of alternative ways to rise above gender bias and find solutions to break oppressive stereotypes and patterns.
So why are we not seeing more women leading the recovery for COVID-19? Why is it that so many women are losing their jobs and being forced back into household roles? Somehow, we have mistaken the need for diversity and inclusion in the workforce and in our political bodies as a means of “helping women”, when in fact, diversifying our workforce and decision-making bodies is simply a stronger business strategy. To be very clear, women are helping us.
At Amalgamated, we understand the value of female empowerment in our workforce and have recently taken steps to strengthen the opportunities available through our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion office. In addition to our commitment to fair and equal recruitment of both men and women, we have recently joined up with Ellevate, the largest network of female professionals, and we’re excited about the opportunity to further enhance the support and resources available for our female colleagues.
As we look back with gratitude for the women who led us through the pandemic last year, despite being the most heavily impacted, we believe that women will continue to play an essential role in the economic recovery of our world. At Amalgamated we will continually choose to challenge gender bias and strengthen the essential role of women in our workforce.
1 Global figures provided by UN Women, 2020: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/7/statement-joint-w20-women-during-covid-19-and-beyond
2 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_01082021.pdf
3 UN Women, Policy Brief no. 18, 2020: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/policy-brief-covid-19-and-womens-leadership-en.pdf?la=en&vs=409