Tying the recovery to women’s economic security is the watershed moment we cannot squander
About ten years ago when our children began elementary school, my husband and I considered leaving New York City for a neighboring suburb. A larger living space and green parks made the proposition attractive. But my employment and career prospects in the city kept us from moving. Consequently, I became active in our local PTA, fundraising and heading numerous STEM initiatives at my children’s neighborhood public school. I did all this while working at a demanding job in finance — and I wasn’t alone. Other working mothers whose careers anchored them to the city invested in their communities too.
But women’s sluggish ascent to reach professional summits and sustainable economic safety plunged within weeks into the pandemic. Amid a public health crisis, families, especially women, have struggled. A tenuous labor market, the tightrope juggle of domestic work — always invisible — and homeschooling have played an instrumental role. But the dearth of public policies to support work and care has been particularly rancid and crippling. They magnified the shaky employment landscape women were already navigating. Not only has this pandemic disrupted our communities, but it has also left women in New York City, and frankly everywhere else, questioning how to work and, in many cases, if we even have work. Not surprisingly, in 2020, we witnessed a net migration of families out of the city resulting in $34 billion in lost income and with it a crucial departure of the city’s tax base that pays for our streets, schools, subways, sanitation, and security.
It’s not just that women, with an overrepresentation of women of color, make up two-thirds of the 40 lowest paid professions; jobs with minimal economic safety nets, and often without paid sick leave or remote-work options. Women who work in corporate America also face obstacles they couldn’t fathom just a year ago. At the start of 2020, women’s trajectory in corporate America was upward; between 2015 and 2020, the percentage of women in SVP and C-Suite roles even grew. However, as the pandemic dragged from weeks into months, one in four women contemplated downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. Women, particularly women of color, have been more likely to be laid off or furloughed. From service to corporate industries, behind each devasting statistic is a woman whom we know well.
Notwithstanding the pandemic jolt, the economic value of women’s contributions has been stunning. Between 1962 and 2000, the dramatic increase in women’s labor-force participation led to $2 trillion gains in the U.S. economy. More granularly, gender representation and equality have also been a business imperative. Companies with diverse management teams (gender included) outperform their peers financially. Diverse teams are also more creative. Specifically, revenues generated from innovative products in companies with the greatest gender diversity (40 percent female managers) was a third greater than in companies with the least gender diversity (5 percent). In the financial crisis of 2008, banks with more women on their boards were more stable.
Tying New York City’s economic security to the meaningful labor participation of women is an essential tool for post-pandemic recovery planning. It behooves the city’s (any city for that matter) leadership to tap into the depths of their imagination and resolve to include women’s needs and contributions as an integral part of the recovery efforts. Now is a watershed moment we cannot squander.
And here’s how. In the past, mobility has shackled women to limited opportunities, but now it can be used as a means for liberation. Women, on average, place a premium on shorter commutes to work, often forsaking a higher-paid job or a one at all, especially after having children. The World Bank found that their travel choices are limited in part by household maintenance activities, which force women to rely on comparatively slower modes of transportation — walking or taking the bus versus using cars and trains. If women are indeed constrained by travel time, either as a matter of practicality or otherwise, (re)employing them with incentives and salaries that neighboring cities and states cannot offer increases the opportunity cost of fleeing. New York City can then be the center of gravity for family life.
The brilliant multiplier effects of employed women in New York City, particularly mothers, is the reason why we want to keep them here. Qualitatively (albeit still measurable), women, like me, will support and invest in their communities — households, schools, neighborhoods, cultural institutions, and small businesses — and thus maintain, and ideally increase, tax base revenues. Quantitively, women’s workforce participation makes cities more productive and increases wages. In fact, for every 10% increase in women’s share of total employment real wages increase by 8%.
Together, let’s end the lean-in acrobatics and variety of contortions women have had to choreograph to gain economic security and equity in the workplace. The path we choose to move forward will be a testament to how the losses we’ve grieved and the injustices we’ve endured have informed our imagination of who we want to become. As Women’s History Month draws to a close, let’s remember, we, as employees and employers, consumers and voters, have the power to demand that businesses and elected officials stand with us. As a lender, make credit available to women entrepreneurs. As a shareholder, ask companies to disclose the strata of leadership positions that women hold. As a voter, elect candidates who legislate gender egalitarian policies.
Please see parts two and three of this three-part series article: Pay Women — Especially Mothers — Their Fair Share and Include Women in the Sequel