The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Women of Color

by Rita E. Garwood Vol. 48 No. 7 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic led 2.3 million women to leave the workforce and drastically amplified social inequalities, especially for women of color. Emani Davis discusses how employers can create a culture that supports women and families and allows women of color to feel safe bringing their whole selves to work.

Emani Davis,
Create(her),
Omowale Project

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another, but according to the Society of Women’s Health Research, COVID-19 has amplified social inequalities, particularly for women of color.1

While it’s important to remember that each person has a unique experience and some recent trends may not apply to every woman of color, Emani Davis, Create(her) at the Omowale Project, an offering designed to support BIPOC leaders in fulfilling their lives’ work, says the pandemic came with a “disproportionality that amplified the inequality and injustice factors that we already knew existed.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Davis says workers in essential industries, including many women of color, were required to be on the front lines while others remained at home.

“There was no flexibility around coming into work because they were considered essential. They were part of a workforce that are too often seen as disposable,” Davis says.

To make matters even more difficult, for the many women of color who are responsible for intergenerational care, there was little support given by employers.

“Many women were forced to leave their children virtually unattended with older siblings,” Davis says. “Or they were working full-time and became full-time teachers and caregivers for children, 24 hours a day. That experience overwhelmed everyone, regardless of color or socioeconomic backgrounds.”

A Culture of Support

To truly support their employees, Davis says employers need to create cultures that support families and help people feel supported as parents. Additionally, Davis says employers can look at efficiency, effectiveness and productivity in a different way.

“When you take care of people, they will ultimately be more inclined to do a better job,” Davis says. “This is an opportunity for employers to really trust in and honor the values of their workforce and to invest in people in ways that have them feel fully supported as human beings, not just as workers.”

A lack of employer support was one of the factors that led more than 2.3 million women to exit the workforce in the first year of the global pandemic. As of February 2021, only 57% of women in the U.S. were employed, the lowest percentage since 1988.2

Many women left their jobs to start businesses. “People became entrepreneurial because what they realized is, if I’m going to work myself to the bone, I might as well be doing it for myself so that I’m able to be a full human being and take care of all the things that matter to me, not just this job, which has clearly shown me that it doesn’t care about me or the responsibilities I have at home,” Davis says.

Safety for Your People

Many women of color do not believe they can bring their whole selves to work, according to Davis. The only way to change this, Davis believes, is if businesses examine their culture to determine why they aren’t employing many people of color, specifically women. Once cultural blocks are removed, Davis says companies must invest in the professional leadership development of people of color and give them the power to expand organizational diversity.

Davis also believes the labor shortage can be linked to the way many companies treat employees.

“People are making very drastic decisions right now, and I think that if employers aren’t seeing this as a wakeup call, that they need to be incentivizing employees by treating them better,” Davis says.

The current battle in Congress over paid family leave demonstrates how U.S. culture views employees who are caretakers — taking leave is considered a luxury.

“If we want people to be productive and do well and make their companies money, then the primary goal would be to take care of them as an individual who is different and separate from just the work that they produce,” Davis says. “The problem with the culture that we’re in around productivity and the generation of wealth is that human beings and companies are really looked at as machines.

“Your employees are in your care,” Davis says. “These are folks that you invest in, you took the time to hire and train them, you do Secret Santa. These are your people.”

1Erickson, Lucy, “The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Women of Color,” Society for Women’s Health Research, Apr. 30, 2020.

2“Another 275,000 Women Left the Labor Force in January,” National Women’s Law Center, Feb. 5, 2021.

Rita E. Garwood is editor in chief of Monitor.

Leave a comment