Ed. Note: This is the latest in a series of articles about motherhood in the legal profession, made in collaboration with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Emily N. Litzinger to our website. Click here if you would like to donate to MothersEsquire.
Working mothers have always had a full, frankly overcrowded field of responsibility that balances work and family. Even before the pandemic, the US did very little to support working parents with a lack of resources and infrastructure to level the playing field. But mothers, the superheroes that they are, made it through cobbling together childcare and working late to keep up. But then the pandemic unexpectedly sweeps through everyone’s lives and the world of working mothers begins to crumble. What starts as a few weeks turns into months, and months turn into nearly a year of distance learning, lack of childcare, illness, closure, business closings, and loss for so many Americans. All of these factors, coupled with the one-sided division of labor among heterosexual couples, have resulted in an exodus of women leaving the US workforce.
In September, 865,000 women left the United States – more than four times as many as men. Working mothers in heterosexual relationships are three times as likely to be responsible for most of the housework and childcare during the pandemic, according to one source. Studies show that full-time mothers in two-parent households provided childcare an average of 22 hours a week during the pandemic and also kept their jobs. This loss has set women’s progress in the labor force back to levels not seen since 1988. Amazingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in December alone, women lost 156,000 jobs while men gained 16,000. Every job lost in December was filled by a woman.
Skin color women are even more affected, and of the 865,000, more than 324,000 were Latinas and 58,000 were black women. Colored women are disproportionately represented in low-wage and high-contact service sectors such as restaurants, travel and hospitality, which have seen the most closings and economic damage. The proportion of workers earning low wages is higher among black and Latin American women, due to structural racism that provides limited education, housing and employment opportunities for people of color.
The long-term effects on the gender gap
This trend, which shaped the “shecession,” threatens long-term economic repercussions, the risk of losing women in leadership positions, future female executives, and years of arduous strides towards gender equality. The effects could incapacitate an entire generation of women. Economists fear that the momentum of the U.S. economy will be jeopardized if women remain on the sidelines after the pandemic and an estimated $ 64.5 billion per year in wages and economic activity is lost. The US economy simply cannot recover without women in the workforce. The aftermath of the pandemic could block women’s income potential and career advancement, and re-entry could prove to be even more difficult than usual for women who leave the workforce during this time. Indeed, the loss for women continues long after the economy has recovered with an atrophy of their skills, experience, and job prospects.
Before the pandemic, the average American female worker made only 81 cents for every dollar the average male employee made. The disproportionate economic burden of the pandemic on women could lead to an even wider gender pay gap during and after the economic downturn. Historically, recessions have moderately narrowed the gender wage gap as they tend to have a greater impact on men. While normal recessions close the gap by 2 percentage points, the pandemic recession is expected to widen the gap by 5 percentage points. Economists estimate the average female worker will make about 76 cents for every dollar the average worker makes, and it will take more than 10 years for the wage gap to approach what it was before the pandemic.
Mitigating the negative effects
We are one year in this pandemic, the consequences are palpable and the future is uncertain. Now is the time for legal businesses to plan and act to contain the long-term damage to gender equality and the economy.
Normalize flexibility. Make a shift towards more progressive labor policies. Normalize remote working and flexible working arrangements even beyond the pandemic. Who Says You Have To Work A 9-5? Consider parent-friendly planning guidelines like a compressed work week, shorter work day, job sharing, or part-time for positions where these options are not available. Flexible planning supports juggling childcare and work and ultimately improves employee job satisfaction. In addition, the talent pool with a virtual workspace is unlimited and allows legal firms to hire more high-profile workers. Continue empathy. Managers should impart empathy and flexibility to employees. Train managers on how to support teams that balance childcare, isolation and virtual schooling on top of their demanding workload. Ask employees what they need, how they are feeling and whether they are familiar with the current work situation. Normalize speaking about these feelings. One option is to start all meetings with a group check-in or share successes. Another example is the celebration of the efforts of working mothers. Compassion can go a long way.
Communicate openly and often. Listen to the needs of working mothers and communicate openly and often. Working mothers are concerned about the pandemic, childcare and job security. Keep yourself informed about the state of the company and any major decisions that affect the lives of employees, such as: B. Payment and benefits.
Empower women leaders. It is important for female leaders and other employees to bond with one another. Help empower women in your law firm by organizing a forum where women leaders come together to share ideas and socialize. Implement programs and policies that empower women to take on leadership roles such as equity partnerships. Establish programs in which partners or executives mentor women who are starting their careers or returning to work after the pandemic.
Invest in diversity and inclusion efforts. Studies have shown that gender and racial diversity improve the quality of decision making, increase innovation, and improve reputation. In uncertain times and in an environment where many companies are changing their business model, a focus on attracting and retaining a diverse workforce will result in a larger talent pool and improved business efforts. Now is the time to sharpen your DEI agenda. Do not take your foot off the pedal!
Make a commitment to pay equity. Federal equal pay legislation is high on President Joe Biden’s list of priorities, and it should be high on legal businesses’ list too. Companies should develop formal processes to eliminate wage differentials. To achieve equal pay, it is important to track the results of promotions and promotions by gender to ensure that women and men are treated fairly and consistently. Conduct an annual equal pay analysis to resolve any pay gap.
Trade now. Seize the moment. In order to rebuild our economies, we must now make an effort to support women in the workforce and recruit those who left during the pandemic. McKinsey predicts that policies to promote gender equality in 2030 will add an additional $ 13 trillion to global GDP compared to the gender regressive scenario.
In a year of uncertainty and panic, legal firms have the opportunity to make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace. The effort or lack of effort will have an impact on gender equality and the economy as a whole in the years to come.
Emily N. Litzinger is a partner in the national law firm Fisher Phillips and works out of the Louisville office. Emily is a trusted advisor and seasoned litigation attorney who advises and defends employers through the intricacies of labor and labor law, and works with clients to develop prevention strategies to ensure compliance and avoid costly litigation. Emily has a particular interest in serving customers in the restaurant and hospitality industry and serves on the Kentucky Restaurant Association’s board of directors. As the mother of three energetic young daughters, Emily is passionate about advancing women in both the legal profession and the workplace.