Short-term Strategies for Addressing the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women’s Workforce Participation

The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated recession have significantly affected women’s workforce participation. Unlike previous recessions, the recession resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected the employment of women more than that of men. While these impacts have varied by sector and family status, Black and Hispanic women have been particularly affected, bringing into sharp relief historical gender and racial inequities in the labor market.

In order to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession on women’s employment, state and local decision makers can use available funds to mitigate these impacts while also laying the foundation for longer-term solutions.

This new guidance from the Societal Experts Action Network identifies strategies that state and local decision makers can use to assist in short-term recovery efforts for women whose employment status and work experiences have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Short-term strategies can not only help mitigate the harm caused by the pandemic and resulting recession but also set the stage for more medium- and long-term equitable recovery strategies. It includes strategies both for supporting caregiving responsibilities and for supporting workforce and career development.

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Short-Term Strategies for Addressing Impacts of Covid-19 on Women's Workforce Participation

The short-term strategies identified here can not only help mitigate the harm caused to women’s workforce participation by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession, but also set the stage for more medium- and long-term equitable recovery strategies. The strategies fall into two categories: supporting caregiving responsibilities and supporting workforce and career development.

Supporting Caregiving Responsibilities

Targeted and direct financial support to women who have lost their jobs or decreased their work hours can help address the economic costs of the pandemic, by helping families meet basic needs such as food and housing. Targeting cash incentives for women who may wish to return to work could spur recovery.

The pandemic forced many child care providers to temporarily or permanently close. Because the majority of the child care workforce are women, increasing child care spending subsidies to boost compensation for child care workers can boost women’s employment and remove barriers for mothers reentering the workforce.

Policies such as paid family leave, flexible schedules, and remote work options can enable women with caregiving demands to continue or return to work in the short term. Research shows policies that reduce the unpredictability of work — such as those that require advance notice of shift scheduling or working late — can support women. Increased flexibility is also important for reducing the gender gap.

Supporting Workforce and Career Development

Workforce development programs can boost remote or telework skills, give women the opportunity to change professions, or enable women to gain new skills while they work, bolstering short-term economic recovery efforts.

State and local decision-makers can start investing in education, apprenticeships, and recruitment for women in jobs and sectors dominated by men — such as trades or construction. Women are underrepresented in these jobs, which are often well-paid.

Mental health support can help employees who have suffered significant stress and disruption caused by the pandemic, and may assist in the retention of women workers considering dropping out of the labor market due to COVID-19-related impacts.

The short-term recovery strategies identified here can provide a foundation for addressing barriers that have long prevented women from entering, remaining in, or reentering the workforce, such as lack of childcare, lack of available jobs, lack of paid sick leave, and lack of workplace flexibility. These actions need to be implemented with an eye toward long-term, equitable economic recovery, addressing the inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Learn More

This rapid expert consultation was produced by SEAN, an activity of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This project is affiliated with the National Academies’ Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats. The white papers that informed the development of this rapid expert consultation were commissioned by the National Bureau of Economic Research with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Read the guidance online at

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SEAN is a network of experts in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences poised to assist decision makers at all levels as they respond to COVID-19. The network appreciates any and all feedback on its work. Please send comments to