Pandemic’s toll on women’s job prospects, mental health

In observance of International Women’s Day, officials with the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System noted how disproportionally the pandemic is affecting women’s mental health and their presence in the workforce.

Women lost 55% of the 9.6 million net jobs lost in 2020. And in January, the number of women who either had a job or were looking for one dropped by 275,000, compared with a drop of 71,000 for men.

During VCU Health’s virtual event Monday on how COVID-19 has affected women, the event’s moderator noted that not since 1988 have women made up such a small portion of the workforce.

“These statistics are amazing,” said Melinda Hancock, VCU Health System’s chief administrative and financial officer.

“This is going to be one of those balancing barometers, that when you’re looking at a benchmark from a gender perspective in the workforce – ‘Was that pre- or post-2020?’”

Hancock anticipates long-lasting impacts related to pay and the recruitment of candidate pools to reflect representative samples of the workforce.

“I think this is going to have a number of ramifications,” she said.

Women tend to work in jobs that have been most vulnerable to the pandemic, such as in hotels and restaurants. Many left work to care for children who were forced to stay at home. And panelists said that the traditional role of women as caregivers may also have grown and expanded to include friends and other families over the past year.

Noting the emotional toll it’s all taking, Hancock believes women are asking themselves: “Where, when, why, how, what am I going to do next? And where do I really spend my time and energies?”

“If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of others,” she said. “And, so that tug and pull has really been elevated during COVID, and in many cases there’s just a lot of women with a lot on them.”

Hancock said she’s concerned about so many women having the weight of the world bearing down upon them — their families and extended responsibilities. But she is pleased that awareness of mental health is rising.

“It’s not where it needs to be. It needs to be much further along in its awareness and comfort in commonplace conversation, but I’m pleased to see at least it getting to that level,” Hancock said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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