“Decades of progress” may be erased by women's job losses

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Debra Flanagan had been working in the travel industry for more than a decade before she was laid off in April, when the coronavirus pandemic decimated airlines and other travel businesses.

“It was just a little bit of a shock, but it was mostly expected,” she told CBS News. 

Across the U.S., women lost more than five million jobs over the past year.

“There are 2.3 million Debra Flanagans out there who are now not in the workforce,” Caroline Fairchild, editor at large of LinkedIn News, told “CBS This Morning” Friday. “What that means is that women’s participation rate in the workforce now is at its lowest rate since 1988.”

Those losses could have long-lasting impacts, Fairchild said.

“If employers don’t act now, don’t think about flexible workplace policies, don’t check in with the current women that they have in their workforce, we’re risking decades of progress being erased from women in terms of what they’ve done in the workforce since 1988,” she said.

However, Fairchild did highlight a positive factor for women trying to get back to work — with the pandemic’s wide-ranging effect on the economy, the long-held stigma surrounding women taking career gaps has “virtually gone away.”

“We hear from hiring managers on LinkedIn who say they almost expect career gaps because of the devastating effect this pandemic has had on the labor force. So walk in confident knowing that’s the case,” she said

Nearly 80% of job losses during the pandemic have been in government, retail, education, health services and leisure and hospitality — all of which have mostly female workforces.

Debra Flanagan has her resume at the ready, but said travel consulting job searches have not turned up results. 

“It’s been really, it’s been really hard,” Flanagan said. “It comes up empty quite a bit. It’s a really kind of dead market right now.”

She also worries about whether her work experience will stand out against other applicants who are in her same position.

“Going back into the industry is going to be a heck of a lot more competition…it’s going to be a much harder climb back,” Flanagan said.

In Flanagan’s case, as well as the millions of women who had worked in the heavily-impacted industries who lost their jobs, Fairchild said the key to returning to work lies in their transferable skills rather than relying on their industries to bounce back.

“Let’s take Debra, for example. The travel industry isn’t a great place to be working now,” Fairchild said. “Her experience as a consultant, that can be transferred into e-commerce, it can be transferred into business sales. These are skills that she has and she can then say in her resume, paint it out as a story, in terms of getting her next opportunity.”

But for now, Flanagan has turned her attention to building a community newsletter. Her unemployment checks and her husband’s income keep the family afloat — though she had to make some changes.

“We just started cutting costs,” she said. “Looked at utilities and tried to switch providers and do whatever we could to save a little bit.”

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