Women of Color and White Women Feel Differently About Job Security During COVID — Why That Matters

Women of Color and White Women Feel Differently About Job Security During COVID — Why That Matters


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May 24, 2024 at 9:59PM UTC

The pandemic has led not only to a historic spike in joblessness. For those who’ve managed to continue working during the course of COVID-19, fears over job insecurity have naturally spiked, too. 

As the economy continues to fluctuate and uncertainty remains the guiding principle of the day, it’s near impossible to feel totally secure in one’s employment status. But according to new research conducted by Fairygodboss, for women of color, that sense of job insecurity is worse — and it could be having a harmful economic trickle-down effect.

At the end of May, Fairygodboss surveyed 1,000 members of its community about the ways COVID has impacted their careers. Seventy-five percent of respondents were still employed at the time, but many remained fearful of the possibility they’d be laid off or furloughed. Women of color were likelier to hold that fear. 

While 38% of white women said they were worried about their job security, 46% of women of color said the same.

Research: Fairygodboss
Research: Fairygodboss

Given the fact women of color have, indeed, lost work during COVID at a disproportionately high rate compared to white people, this difference in feelings of job insecurity is, unfortunately, hardly surprising. 

This “fear gap” is reflective of an unfair reality. 

Black women, for instance, have already faced some of the largest losses in COVID unemployment; their employment-to-population ratio dropped by 11%. According to data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), nearly 19% of Black female workers lost their jobs between February and April. That’s significantly higher than the rise in joblessness for white workers during the same period, at 15.5%. 

COVID’s impact has been disproportionately severe for other communities of color, too. Earlier in May, the Washington Post reported that 20% of Latinx men and 18% of Latinx women had been laid off as a result of COVID, surpassing the unemployment average for all other ethnicities. That means that one in nearly every five Latinx people are now unemployed, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from the same period. 

These employment gaps come on top of increased mortality rates for Black and Latinx communities compared to the mortality rate for white people during the pandemic, as well. And for some indigenous communities in the U.S. — like the severely impacted Navajo Nation — the mortality gap is truly staggering. As of June 9th, for instance, around 60% of COVID-19 deaths in the state of New Mexico were among Indigenous Americans, despite them making up just 8.8% of the area’s population. 

Simply put: there’s a reason for this fear gap. And according to FGB’s research, it could be fueling yet another economic gap for women of color, in particular. 

Participants who indicated that, prior to COVID, they’d been planning to ask for a raise or promotion in the near future were surveyed on whether they still intended to move forward with those asks. While 19% of white women said they had decided not to move forward with that ask, 27% of respondents of color said the same. All in all, across races, just 11% of women said that they intended to move forward with their previous plans to ask for a raise or promotion. 

Research: Fairygodboss
Research: Fairygodboss

This is a pattern we had previously feared would emerge. And given the psychological insecurity felt by many women — and especially, according to our research, felt by women of color — around employment status and job security in this moment, it’s hardly an encouraging backdrop against which to ask for more money or seniority at work. And yet, if we don’t make those asks, the consequences could further contribute to what some economists and social scientists have already feared — that, as The Atlantic’s Helen Lewis put it, women’s “lifetime earnings will never recover” from the pandemic. 

But the onus shouldn’t just be on women themselves to push past these fears. Companies must step up and play a significant role in assuring their female talent — and especially the women of color in their workforces — that they are as committed as ever to seeing them succeed. To that end, FGB’s survey participants had some recommendations for what companies can be doing better in this moment. Read the full survey results here

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