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Sarah Lozanova headshot

How COVID-19 Exacerbated Gender and Racial Inequalities in the Workplace

By Sarah Lozanova

Despite a staggering job boom, the economy is leaving more single mothers behind. Although there are more than 10.9 million open jobs, many of these mothers are missing out on such opportunities. Of those, more than half are Black or Latina, creating even more of a setback in gender and racial equality in the workplace. COVID-19 is largely driving this trend.

In 2019, there were nearly ten million mothers with young children in the workforce. The economic impacts of the pandemic have been far more severe for mothers compared to the general population. In particular, the pandemic is having a harsh impact on single mothers of young children. Insufficient access to child care has been causing more women to stay home, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in lost wages and economic activity annually and lost educational opportunities.

And, this shift continues as the COVID-19 crisis drags on. Of the 235,000 positions added in August, only 11.9 percent went to women.

“Just before the pandemic hit, for the first time ever, for a couple months, we had more women employed than men,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress, to the New York Times. “And now we are back to late 1980s levels of women in the labor force.”

The pandemic has made much of the economy volatile, especially with the recent surge in cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant. The leisure and hospitality industries have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. These sectors lost the most jobs during the shutdown and are at the greatest risk of COVID-19 outbreaks drastically affecting the bottom line. Companies within these industries also hire for jobs that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to perform remotely.

Yet, mothers that work remotely with children at home have their own challenges. Anyone that has ever attempted to have a conference call with a parent with young children around knows it can be extremely tough. Many mothers themselves time-poor and constantly multitasking, leading to higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Yet, single mothers of young children have suffered the most impact over the past 18 months. Although fathers of minors have also faced significant workplace challenges, the effect on their overall employment rates has been less persistent. According to data from January 2020 to March 2021, single mothers of minors were more likely to leave the workforce than married mothers. By contrast, childless mothers and fathers saw a nearly identical drop and recovery in employment rates during the same period.

Black and Latina mothers make up a disproportionate number of solo parents that are not married or co-habitating. Although they represent just 13.9 and 22.6 percent of young parents (aged 18 to 29), they made up 32.9 and 32.2 percent of solo young parents. Unless they have significant support, these women are in an especially difficult situation to make ends meet while parenting.

Likewise, the age of the children also an effect on the labor force participation rates. Mothers with the youngest child under 12 have not rebounded to the degree as mothers heading families in which the youngest child is a teenager.

Without change, this trend in workforce gender and racial gaps will continue. Many schools have already shut down this school year, as there has been an increase in in-school transmission of COVID-19. Meanwhile, many school districts have dropped masking and social distancing requirements, thus increasing the risk of further in-school transmission.

Given the extreme challenges that mothers face in the workplace, corporations must step up to help mitigate gender and racial inequalities in the workplace. According to Forbes, this can start with understanding the unique challenges that women face to customize solutions. This can be especially true for Black and Brown mothers and single mothers without support from family.

One way to be more accommodating is to offer a special “parenthood” leave when a child-centered crisis arises. Another option is to provide greater flexibility in work hours to accommodate childcare and school schedules. Likewise, it can be helpful to train employees on workplace inequalities that have a disproportionate impact on women, especially those who happen to be people of color.

It’s easy to think that mothers’ issues in the workplace will just clear up soon, but school closures and class quarantines are already plaguing the 2021-2022 school year. To that end, getting control of COVID-19 needs to be the first order of business for progress in workplace equality.

Image credit: Unsplash

Sarah Lozanova headshot

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.

Read more stories by Sarah Lozanova