Imagine a Venn diagram with three circles. We’ll label the first circle “the pandemic,” the second one “post-pandemic inflation,” and the third “portending recession.” The space where the three circles intersect contains a certain cohort of people who are fighting a brand-new variant of economic misery.
Not only has this cohort been steamrolled by labor market turbulence from the pandemic, they have also been disproportionately pummeled by rampant inflation. And now this cohort will be swept away by efforts to tame the very economic hardships hurting them.
Regardless of whether you’re a woman or if you love someone who is, we all suffer from run-away gender inequity. If we don’t immediately apply the gender lens to public policy, the Federal Reserve will never achieve its stated goal “to support a strong, stable economy that benefits all Americans.” Without the gender lens, the lack of parity will continue to rob our economy of equity’s $3.1 trillion dividend.
A view of the pandemic through the gender equity lens
Things weren’t looking auspicious for women in the years leading up to the pandemic. Between 2010 and 2018 the gender pay gap had hardly changed and despite all the euphoria of women smashing the glass ceiling, the percent of women as Fortune 500 CEOs peaked at a meager 6.6 percent in 2019.
It shouldn’t have surprised us that when the pandemic hit, decades of pent-up gender inequity exploded. Women, who held 62 percent of all minimum and lower-wage positions at the onset of the pandemic, disproportionately lost jobs and atrophied from the labor force.
Today’s labor market is still short 513,000 women since the start of the pandemic, setting women back another 29 years toward labor market equity. Measured in terms of economic potential, we’ve lost $1.789 trillion.
It’s particularly concerning that 103,000 Black women vanished from the labor force and lost 72,000 jobs last month. Since 1982, more than half of all Black American households with children have been headed by breadwinner moms. In other words, our future entrepreneurs, policy makers and essential workers become the collateral damage of inequity.
Inflation is not gender neutral
Now, women are grappling with the gender bias of inflation. They make up 58 percent of today’s minimum wage workforce, 56 percent of those living in poverty and 55 percent of social security beneficiaries. The record inflation rate is chomping away at the purchasing power of their fixed income.
And it certainly doesn’t bode well for women that inflation disproportionately targets goods and services marketed specifically for them, including menstrual and feminine hygiene products. It’s the pink tax on steroids.
If you’re starting to see a pattern, it’s because there is one. Women routinely suffer during economic downturns since their experiences don’t make it into policy decisions. We call this the male-default bias. And following the Fed’s most recent interest rate hike, women will disproportionately suffer again.
Interest rate hikes are not gender neutral, either
Let’s return to the Venn diagram, where women fall into the area where the three circles intersect. They bore the brunt of the pandemic, they are bearing the brunt of inflation, and they will bear the brunt of the very measures the Fed is taking to squelch inflation.
Take student loans as an example. July’s one percentage point increase in the Federal student loan interest rate will hit women hardest. Why? Because women are more likely than men to take out student loans: 44 percent of women take out loans compared to 39 percent of men. It also takes women almost two years longer to repay these loans than men, which results in greater total interest accrued.
Or consider mortgage rates. Women tend to carry higher mortgage rates than men, resulting in a $5,100 mortgage gender gap over the course of a 30-year fixed interest loan term.
Recent data suggests that rising interest rates could especially sting women and Black employees in the labor market. As the market shrinks on the back of a tighter monetary policy, companies tend to let go of the last people they hired and the least senior among them.
Investment in gender equity is an investment in our economy
So where do we go from here? I propose gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming challenges the notion of gender-neutrality by recognizing that economic policies impact groups differently.
In gender mainstreaming, we apply the gender equity lens to ensure everyone’s experiences play a role in policy creation, implementation and evaluation. That way, we gain direct insight into how the forces that modulate our society impact different parts of the general population.
Gender mainstreaming does not “add” women’s issues to the realm of public policy. Rather, it is a strategic and necessary approach to embed equity into the core of our economy and unlock its $3.1 trillion potential.
Katica Roy is a gender economist and the CEO and founder of Denver-based Pipeline, an award-winning SaaS company that leverages artificial intelligence to identify and drive economic gains through gender equity. Pipeline launched the first gender equity app on Salesforce's AppExchange. The Pipeline platform was named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019, Fast Company’s 2020 World’s Most Innovative Companies, Fast Company’s 2021 Next Big Things in Tech and in Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas. In 2020, Katica was named the Colorado Entrepreneur of the Year. She also serves on Fast Company’s Impact Council and Bloomberg’s New Economy Forum’s Trade Council.