'Shecession': COVID-19's Economic Impact on Women
with Alejandra Castillo of YWCA USA
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Americans of all backgrounds, some advocates are concerned about a “shecession” — an economic crisis disproportionately impacting women.
Alejandra Castillo, CEO of YWCA USA, outlines policy recommendations for building a more equitable future for women in the workforce.
January 04, 2021
Anderson: Millions of American women are disproportionately feeling the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts say it could take years for them to recover. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. According to a recent report, disappearing service-sector jobs and lack of child-care options due to COVID-19 has triggered a nationwide "shecession." Joining me to talk about what that means is Alejandra Castillo. She is the C.E.O. of YWCA USA. Alejandra, thank you so much for joining us.
Castillo: Pleasure to be with you.
Anderson: So what is it that you see in that report that tells you that that's the best way to describe this thing, a shecession?
Castillo: Sure. So the very unique moment that we're living today, the pandemic, the economic recession, the national call for racial justice, has really also highlighted something very interesting, which is that women are at the core of what's happening today. They're being disproportionately impacted by this economic recession, which is why it's being called the shecession. And this has to do with the fact that women, just in December of 2019, became the largest proportion of the workforce. And when the pandemic hit, we also saw that they were the front liners, they were in the service industry and those industries that was mostly impacted. So when we saw retail close, when we saw hospitality close, when we saw the restaurant industry close, it disproportionately impacted women. And it also revealed that women are now not only at the most vulnerable of the industries, but that we need to pay attention as to how do we move women in terms of training and skills as we look at the future of work?
Anderson: So when you looked at how to move women in terms of training and skills, this was really through this report which you partnered with the University of Texas at Austin on, and you came up with a list of policy recommendations that centered around education and child care. Talk to us about each of those policy recommendations.
Castillo: Sure. So let's start with child care. We know that if you are a woman who has children under your care, you need to have reliable, affordable and quality child care, which in our country has been at a crisis point. But this pandemic has now really brought light to all of these social issues that we have been neglecting for quite some time. So we need to make sure that as we think about the recovery, we are now focusing on women and what do women need to make sure that they're leading in this economic recovery? And child care becomes incredibly important as well as how are we going to provide workforce development programs that are really looking at what's happening in the economy with artificial intelligence, with automation, with virtual reality? All of the things that are really changing the workplace, what type of skills, what type of opportunities, so that women are not relegated to those industries that are most vulnerable, especially during the time of a pandemic and an economic crisis.
Anderson: So when you put forth these policy recommendations in this white paper, it specifically talks about STEM in education for women and how important that was. Can you touch on what you found that led you to those conclusions?
Castillo: Sure. So what we're seeing is that we need to find ways to do workforce development training. That is not just what we were doing 20, 30 years ago. We need to bring these programs into the modern time. And that means making sure that whether it's computer -- not only computer literacy, but coding, issues of cybersecurity, how do we train more women into those spaces, which is where the job growth is going to be. And again, I have to underscore, we cannot relegate women to the jobs of the 20th century. We really need to move our entire system into what are the jobs that are coming down the pike that women will be able to earn more dollars as well, because that's another big issue, moving women into those jobs that are not only receptive to the economy, but also that will generate a higher earning for them so that we can all make sure that not only are you working, but you're not being left behind into the working poor, but really moving women into the ladders of opportunity.
Anderson: And when it comes to child care, obviously, that's crucial. But how do you convince the public and private sector that it needs to be affordable? Because that's the real barrier, isn't it?
Castillo: Well, several things. We need to make sure that, as a nation, we don't talk about child care as just an issue of a woman. It's really a national issue. It's really a national issue. And what we also cited in our report is that when it comes to the developed countries, OECD countries, the United States ranks the lowest when it comes to child care. We don't see child care as a national importance. We relegated it to "it's a family issue, a women's issue." We need to bring that because that's where we are not only educating and nurturing our young generation, but we're also investing into the future of our own country. So we need to change the narrative of what we -- how we speak about child care and make it a priority all around. And then the issue of not only affordability, but quality across the country, because even individuals in the high earning brackets are finding that quality child care is not as available or that the affordability is so high. I'm sorry the lack of affordability is such an issue that it's impacting families across the income spectrum.
Anderson: So you guys are touching on some important things that I know viewers are going to want to know more. So what's your website? Where can they go?
Castillo: Sure. So our website is YWCA.org. And again, I just want to say, in terms of our mission, it's eliminating racism and empowering women. So we want to make sure that we continue to bring these issues to the forefront and also underscore how these issues are impacting communities of color and women of color. So our mission is really continuing to push, push the country to think about these issues from a different lens and in a much more comprehensive and as well with a racial justice component to it as well.
Anderson: Alejandra Castillo, thank you for being here.
Castillo: Thank you so much.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, be sure to visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.