It’s Women’s History Month, so I want to be positive. But the stats on women in the workforce during the pandemic are too bleak to sugar coat: 

  • Women have lost 5.4 million jobs during the pandemic, which is nearly one million more jobs lost than men. 
  • Almost 80 percent of people over the age of 20 who left the workforce in January 2021 were women

“Unfortunately,” says Ruth Thomas, co-founder and senior consultant at the financing and loan outfit CURO based in San Carlos, California. “We are now starting to understand the gender impact of the pandemic and the economic fallout being dubbed the ‘Shecession.’” 

So what does this Shecession mean if you’re a woman with a job eyeing a pay raise during a pandemic? 

“They aren’t even thinking about asking for a raise, but they should,” says Sonya Sigler, an author, executive coach and consultant based in London, England. Sigler says she keeps encountering women who fear asking for a raise, because they’re afraid to rock the boat during this already-turbulent time. 

Addressing pay inequality

But Thomas notes this is a particularly good time to ask for a raise, and points to a study showing that 60 percent of companies are now making a concerted effort to address pay equality.  

Indeed, inequality is everywhere, from the top to the bottom. On the low end, if the federal minimum wage were increased to $15 per hour, the people who would benefit would be 59 percent women and only 41 percent men. This just shows that the lowest wage work still overwhelmingly belongs to women. And at the top, even the highest-paid women are still earning 84.6 cents to every man’s dollar

And we still see troubling numbers in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields, where only a quarter of the workforce is women, and about half of women in STEM report experiencing gender discrimination.

Despite the relative dearth of women in the workforce and companies’ often lackluster efforts to address pay inequality, women who are still employed should feel emboldened to make their needs heard, according to Sigler.

Ask for what you want

“My advice to women is to ask for what you want – a raise, a promotion, a change in your schedule, or whatever else it is that you want. You can’t get what you don’t ask for,” Sigler says, adding that if you ask for and don’t get a raise, then ask for specific details on what criteria must be met to get that raise or promotion. 

“That gives you a game plan to meet and then to ask again,” Sigler says.

Working remotely may actually help

And make sure to ask for enough! A 2019 study showed that the majority of women ask for raises of $5,000 or below. About the same number of men and women ask for raises of $5K-$10K, but men were way more likely than women to ask for raises of $10K or more. 

Though the fallout from this pandemic will likely affect women in the workforce for years to come, Thomas notes one silver lining: the acceptance of flexible work situations. For the most part, gone are the days that working remotely or working odd hours made an employee seem underinvested. Now, it’s the norm. And Thomas says this tears down a major blocker for women’s career progression. 

At least that’s one thing to celebrate this Women’s History Month.