SBWL Celebrates Women’s History Month and The Impact COVID-19 Has Had on Women in the Workforce

By Samantha Baldwin

March is Women’s History Month, which started in 1981 [i] with the passage of Pub. L. 97-28 authorizing and requesting the President to designate March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Prior to the establishment of Women’s History Month, women have been fighting for equal rights and pay equality for over 200 years, with the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement occurring in 1848.

March also marks, nearly a year of COVID-19 and the results of the pandemic. While announcing Women’s History Month, President Biden noted that “as we celebrate the contributions and progress of women and girls, we must also reflect on the extraordinary and unequal burdens they continue to bear today.” He noted that COVID-19 had exacerbated barriers that had held back women for generations. [ii] Gender and racial disparities in pay have continued to grow.

Additionally, a large share of caregiving responsibilities continued to fall on the shoulders of women and girls during the Pandemic.  As a result of COVID-19 and the disparity in caregiving responsibilities, as well as the business sectors women generally work in,  the women’s labor force participation is at its lowest point in more than 30 years.[iii]

A July 2020 report from McKinsey Global, found that in the United States, where women made up 43% of the work force, they accounted for 56% of COVID-19 related job losses. [iv] The increased burden of unpaid care, which is generally carried by women, was noted as one reason COVID-19 had a greater impact of women’s job losses, according to McKinsey. In at least one survey women in the United States noted that the time spent of family responsibility had increased by 1.5 to 2.0 hours.  This combined with a Northwestern Study, finding that majority of single parents are women.[v] Compounded the conclusion that the Pandemic was continuing to place an even greater burden on women in the workplace, leaving less time for paid work, education and career advancement, potentially causing an even greater disparity in the workforce going forward.

Even today, nearly a year into COVID-19, the net number of women who have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic remains at over 2.3 million, the current women’s labor force participation rate was 57% in February which was the lowest it had been since 1988. [vi] For working mothers still in the workforce, this Pandemic has meant balancing full-time employment with childcare, schooling, and the responsibility of caring for sick and elderly family members. Crystal M. Moten, a curator in the division of work and industry at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, noted in Smithsonian Magazine, “There is no historical example we can look back to in order to provide insight into the record number of women leaving, being pushed out of, or pulled away form the paid workforce because of the impact of COVID-19.”[vii]

While COVID has had such a detrimental impact on our country and on the women in The United States, we can continue to fight and push for equal pay in the workforce and equal rights, as well as paid family leave and more support for employees having to care for their family members. Throughout the most recent years SBWL has started a Salary Survey to promote more wage transparency within our industry and Santa Barbara. We are continuing to support and spotlight bills that focus on women’s and family rights through the Advocacy Committee. Additionally, the Foundation will be continuing it is annual distribution of Scholarship to college and law students who exemplify what SBWLF stands for. One of the greatest ways to address these disparities is through educational advancement.

To echo the words of our President, let us pay tribute this month and every month, to the accomplished and visionary women who have helped build our country, the trailblazers from the recent and distant past for daring to envision a future for which no past precedent existed, and work towards building a country of endless possibilities for all women and girls.