Jodi Berg, PhD
President & CEO, Vitamix Corporation
Team NEO Board Chairwoman
For many women, advancement in the workforce has often been tied to societal norms, economic opportunity, and access to education and child care. Depending on the moment in history, women have either been elevated or restricted from participating in the workforce or advancing their careers. This report looks at COVID-19’s disparate impact on women, and also highlights working female representation in Northeast Ohio driver industries and in-demand occupations and opportunities to advance women.
Increased labor force participation among women has led to improved wages, however the gender wage gap has remained steady. Northeast Ohio women spent an average of 36 million hours working in 2019, more than 45% of all hours worked in the region. Despite this, working women earn an estimated 23% less of working men’s wages.
COVID-19’s impact on women has shifted the national dialogue to focus on how women’s advancement opportunities may be affected for those who have made the difficult decision to leave the workforce temporarily or permanently. In particular, leaders and activists are pointing out that when trying to reenter the workforce, women may not be able to return at the same level positions and/or wages.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more women took on leadership roles. In fact, vice president roles grew from 23% to 28% – and from 17% to 21% in C-suite positions. Women-owned businesses had also been growing at an impressive pace: They represented 42% of all businesses, employing 9.4 million workers and generating $1.9 trillion in revenue.2 However, women continued to be underrepresented in technology and manufacturing, two high-paying growth industries. Half of these women-owned businesses are beauty salons, day care centers, animal care facilities, home health care services, law firms, bookkeeping companies and consultancies, many of which were shut down during stay-at-home orders.
Evolving pandemic restrictions, consumer behaviors and child care policies will determine the type and timing of opportunities for women to reenter the workforce and restart their businesses.
According to Moody’s Analytics, almost a third of workers were afraid of losing their jobs and getting hours and paychecks cut toward the end of 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported substantial job loss at different points of the year; however, it’s September’s report showed hundreds of thousands of women lost their jobs or left the workforce – four times the number of men.
Various news sources have reported on the disparity of jobs lost by women of color, than jobs lost by white women. For Example, USA Today reported that over 37% of the 865,000+ women who left the labor force last fall were Latina.
In the Northeast Ohio Region, single mothers make up 6% of households. Couples with children, which make up 17% of Northeast Ohio’s households, experienced greater job and income loss than those with children who no longer live at home. These were the groups affected by closures of day cares, schools, playgrounds, camps and other child-centered activities.
Slowly, industries and employees are bouncing back from the early impacts of the pandemic, as restaurants, bars, schools and businesses test reopening and public health and safety protocols. Lost jobs, however, are not necessarily coming back.
Seeing these high levels of job loss, in particular in so many occupations held by women, has prompted national and regional discussions on what this means for women in the workforce. The question of how COVID-19 will affect women’s short- and long-term opportunities for higher wages and advancement is of particular concern.
Historical poverty data rates are also being watched as women in lower-paying jobs were impacted from the pandemic’s mass closures. Like the wage gap, these rates show a persistent gap between men and women over the decades. While rates among women have decreased since the Great Recession of 2008, economists and national organizations are fearful the pandemic’s job loss, education challenges and wage loss will force more people — specifically working women and mothers — into poverty.
Women also make up more than half (61%) of the working population below the poverty level in Northeast Ohio. Working mothers and women living below the poverty level can struggle with access to transportation or remote work, quality internet, affordable child care, resources to address the special educational needs of their children and health care.
In past recessions, a downturn has traditionally halted increases in manufacturing, construction and other male-dominated fields where women have been historically underrepresented. The COVID-19 recession was different. Three of the top five sectors in the region with high rates of female employment – healthcare (-7%), accommodations & food services (-23%), and Education (-13%) – accounted for employment losses of more than 70,000 jobs in 2020.
The impact to higher education, public school and other educational institutions has been enormous – for teachers and students alike. The impact on those seeking postsecondary degrees in the future is unclear, as concerns continue about social distancing guidelines, relevancy to job retention and attainment, and higher education costs.
With short-term concerns of social distancing and in-person learning, and long-term concerns of how degrees lead to full-time or in-demand careers, internships and training programs have an opportunity to encourage young adults and adult earners alike to enter into fields with which they are typically underrepresented.
In 2019, Northeast Ohio program completions among women exceeded 28,000, with 30% of those completions in programs that lead to in-demand jobs in the health care, manufacturing and IT fields.
Women comprised 62% of these in-demand completions. This high percentage suggests that women will play the greatest role in overcoming Northeast Ohio’s talent supply/demand challenge.
Women dominate Northeast Ohio’s health care industry – a critical part of the regional economy.
There is significant opportunity for women to pursue in-demand occupations in manufacturing and IT. Regional initiatives – like Team NEO’s Emerging Talent web page – are working to recruit and retain more women to these fields, strengthening the regional workforce.
In August 2020, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a special report on women-owned small businesses during COVID-19 that surveyed women-and men-owned business owner outlooks on various characteristics including revenue, investment and hiring growth, and overall business health. Overall, the report found that women-owned businesses were less likely to predict a strong recovery in the year ahead
The 2017 Annual Business Survey shows women-owned businesses in Northeast Ohio have been concentrated in health care, professional services, retail, accommodation and food services, other services, and administrative support. These top women-owned sectors of the economy accounted for a loss of 35,000 regional jobs in 2020. With COVID’s effects on these industries, female business owners and entrepreneurs may need increased support as they look to rebuild and strengthen their footprint in Northeast Ohio.
Corporate leaders have an opportunity to refine their HR policies to mitigate the harmful effects of COVID-19, and also retain, promote and advance women in the workforce. Working and single mothers especially are at greater risk of leaving the workforce either permanently or temporarily, which can negatively impact promotions to higher paying roles and future wealth generation for female workers. In Northeast Ohio, women in the workforce can thrive when leaders and company cultures take these impacts into account.
Women and all professionals can thrive when communities rally together. This culture of support is central to Engage! Cleveland’s offerings. Its Next Generation of Women daylong event empowers young professional women to take their careers into their own hands. In addition, Engage! Cleveland conducts a survey on the state of young professionals in the Greater Cleveland community and hosts a Women’s Mentorship Program to help women navigate the intersection of life and work.
This is especially important now as women leave jobs that do not offer necessary family leave policies or look for higher-paying or more flexible positions. Despite COVID-19’s many challenges, Engage! Cleveland was prepared to take things virtual. With a solid e-infrastructure, attendance for 2021’s Next Generation of Women grew by over 50 percent and the mentorship program launched with 56 mentees and 16 mentors. This interest shows Greater Cleveland women actively want to take their careers to the next level.
Being a Girl Scout means more than cookies, crafts and camping. Girl Scouts of North East Ohio (GSNEO) provides opportunities to prepare young women for STEM careers of the future through programming to foster STEM interests in K-12 students, teaching students how STEM helps people and society, connecting students to role models and caring adults, and giving access to physical resources and hands-on exploration. Since 2017, GSNEO has awarded 47,616 badges to female students from kindergarten to high school. New in 2021, GSNEO has launched a partnership with America Makes that will expand STEM programming to include additive manufacturing and 3D printing technology for more than 23,500 girl members. GSNEO is striving to fill a critical gap in emerging talent education to create a more equitable future regional labor force.
There is no doubt that culture plays a huge role in how successful a company is with talent attraction and retention. S3 Technologies, LLC is a great example of a small business creating a workplace culture that is conducive to the flexibility and inclusive culture employees yearn for. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, S3 has fostered an equitable leadership model where employees, in particular women, have been able to start at entry level positions and grow their responsibilities to become part of the leadership team. During the COVID-19 pandemic, S3 prioritized the health and wellbeing of all employees and allowed for the flexibility that is essential to parents; especially women. This has allowed S3 to continue to deliver exceptional technology solutions in a time where these services were in even greater demand.
Many women in Northeast Ohio that made the decision to leave the labor force during the pandemic may now be finding themselves at a point of transition in their lives. A resource to aid women re-entering the labor force is Cuyahoga Community College’s (Tri-C) Women in Transition program. Before the pandemic, this 43-year-old program served over 350 women annually and is a source of information, support and retraining for women in transitional times of their lives. This non-credit program features curriculum focused on personal development, career exploration, computer literacy, and other workshops. The program now allows for more flexible learning by offering remote or in-person sessions to accommodate schedules. Program graduates have found employment with regional health care providers, businesses, hospitality management and educational institutions, including Tri-C itself. Tri-C’s Women in Transition program has proven to be an equitable solution to empowering women re-entering the labor market.
YWCA of Greater Cleveland (YWCA) is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting justice, freedom and dignity. Ringing true to their mission, YWCA has made organizational changes over the past five years to end biases and meet gaps for their staff, including raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour. During a year of heightened racial reckoning, YWCA became a shining example for corporations looking to build policies around equity and inclusion in the workplace. For example, YWCA eliminated restrictions for PTO during the pandemic and focused on communications that put staff self-care at the forefront, helping staff thrive through difficult times. When asked about the best policy to help empower women, YWCA advocates for true universal childcare that un-burdens women from high care costs and allows them to pursue employment that generates wealth.