COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Women in Technology

WITI News Staff

January 03, 2021

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By Cathie Wilson and Mike Batty

"The impacts of crises are never gender-neutral, and COVID-19 is no exception[1]."

The opening sentence in a United Nations article titled COVID-19 and its economic toll on women: The story behind the numbers sums up the issue rather succinctly; women are indeed impacted more in times of crises than men.

In the United States, the unemployment rate for women is higher than that of men. One reason given for the unemployment disparity is that more women than men are employed in the leisure and hospitality, and education sectors, both of which have high layoff risks1,[2].

What about the tech sector in the United States?

A Forbes article points out that the impact of COVID-19 on the tech company workforce has been far less than other industries that require face-to-face interactions[3]. While this sounds promising for the tech industry, a closer look reveals that "women in tech are 1.6x more likely than men to be laid-off or furloughed."

Why the disparity?

In U.S. Unemployment Rising Faster for Women and People of Color, points to seniority as one of the contributing factors for the disparity[4]. In the article, Alexandra Kalev points out that of 327 companies that laid off workers, they did so based on tenure and as a result, they "...drained diversity from their management teams...4" Some managers said layoffs were based on job titles or tenure and not diversity; some even went so far as to say the process was �"color blind.4” Statements such as these ignore workforce realities. When women and people of color are newcomers to the workforce and senior technical and managerial positions, using a last-in-first-out approach for managing workforce reductions will naturally have a more considerable impact on women and people of color.

It is up to managers and leaders to step back and look at how their organizations reduce workforce size to ensure a fair and equitable process. Alexandra Kalev suggests the following to avoid turning an �"economic recession into a diversity recession.4”

- Keep track of who is being laid off; be aware of the diversity impact of layoffs
- Think less about job titles and more about what people contribute to the organization
- Find ways to move people around within an organization to leverage their talent
- Explore ways to cross-train and upskill workers
- If possible, offer early or phased retirement packages
- Look into ways to cut pay instead of hours
- Don't slash your diversity team

Keeping your diversity team intact during the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a stronger post-COVID workforce in which women and people of color have more opportunities for advancement.

[1]September 16, 2020. COVID-19 and its economic toll on women: The story behind the numbers, United Nations-Women. Accessed on December 15, 2020.

[2] Rakesh Kochhar, June 11, 2020. Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession. Pew Research Center. June 11, 2020. Accessed December 15, 2020.

[3] MeiMei Fox, May 13, 2020. 4 Ways COVID-19 Has Negatively Impacted Women In Tech. Forbes. Accessed December 15, 2020.

[4] Alexandra Kalev, April 20, 2020. Research: U.S. Unemployment Rising Faster for Women and People of Color. Accessed December 15, 2020.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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