Will working women recover in 2021? Six experts share their predictions

Working women suffered unprecedented losses in 2020 disproportionate job loss and a variety of caring responsibilities – a combination that could ultimately undo much of the advances women have made in the workforce over the past few years and decades.

But with a new year, a new presidential administration, and a coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, do women have a chance of recovering in 2021?

Six experts – from Melinda Gates to Tina Tchen, CEO of Time’s Up – looked at the question. All emphasized the importance of closing important gaps such as accessible childcare and paid family leave. But from unique seats – lobbying Congress on these issues, working with businesses to better serve women workers, and analyzing economic data – everyone has a different perspective on the New Year.

Read their predictions, hopes, and goals for 2021 below:

Kimberly Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women

With kind permission from AAUW

We really learned this year that it’s not a work-life balance – it’s a work-life mix. Increased flexibility in the workplace will be a real top trend that we will see in 2021. To overcome this crisis and achieve real recovery we need to focus on helping women cope with this too.

When we enter the 117th Congress, we will have even more bills on transparency: on equal pay, on workplace practices, on flexibility and on access to care – like that Paycheck Fairness Act and the Family law.

However, those bills were written before the pandemic. I think you will see many organizations, elected officials and policymakers working to make it right for a post-COVID-19 world. I think we’re going to see these bills come with a few changes and tweaks that better fit where jobs should be as they fully take into account diversity, equity and inclusion – especially given what we’re doing this year have learned.

Melinda Gates, Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Founder of Pivotal Ventures, and Author of The moment of the elevator

Melinda Gates

Michael Short – Bloomberg / Getty Images

Women experienced the worst recession of 2020. You could also suffer the worst of the 2021 rebound.

One big reason is maintenance. Even before COVID-19, women were almost three times as likely as men who quit their job to look after a family member. Now they are leaving the workforce in record numbers. A recent survey found that an amazing one Every fourth woman is considering downgrading her career or quitting her job because of the increased responsibility for care during the pandemic.

It keeps me awake at night to think that when businesses reopen, there might be lots of empty desks that used to be women. This is the path we are on unless lawmakers are finally giving the care crisis the attention it deserves. To begin with, we need a national policy on paid family and sick leave – now. We are the only industrial nation without one. We also need federal measures to stabilize the fluctuating childcare industry and provide additional resources for long-term care services and support so that sick and aging adults do not depend on just one mother or daughter.

If we ignore these needs, it will deepen the recession and slow the recovery for everyone. If we recognize that care is an infrastructure and invest accordingly, women can only save our economy.

C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Research on Women’s Politics

C. Nicole Mason-Headshot 1

With the kind permission of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research

In the short term in the first quarter of the year, I expect more women to leave the labor force, especially if schools are closed and day care is closed. I expect some women will have to make this choice. In the second quarter of the year, women will be able to return to work because of the stability that predictable care provides. I think we have a long way to go.

I don’t think recovery will be quick. I just do not know. I think it will be slow. And it might seem expedited at the outset when 100% home stay orders are canceled. But some of the jobs we lost won’t return. I think we are still a few years from a full recovery in terms of pre-pandemic women’s employment levels. However, I believe there will be a robust recovery plan similar to that of 2008. Hopefully this will give the economy a boost, but it will also help the hardest hit women workers.

Tina Tchen, President and CEO of Time’s Up


Courtesy of Tina Tchen

As I was in the White House 12 years ago we came out of the gate with one Restoration Act trying to get the economy going – that was a lot of work for us. At that time, Vice President Biden was leading this recovery effort. And I assume that President-elect Biden will do the same now and that the economic team he appointed understands this.

I hope that even more than 12 years ago, individual companies will respond with their own policies and investments in their workforce – so that we can actually see how our investments in our workforce change, for example building maintenance infrastructure.

I really think 2021 may be the year we do this kind of generational and transformational shift.

Rachel Thomas, Co-Founder and CEO of


Patrick T. Fallon – Bloomberg / Getty Images

When experts talk about the “future of work” we are often talking about artificial intelligence, automation or robotics. COVID-19 has driven us in a different direction: the future of work for women. It’s really clear that remote working will stay here. 90% of businesses believe that more work is being done remotely after COVID-19.

On the upside, women, especially mothers and caregivers, are most likely to use this option. However, it will be vital that we create a culture that includes remote work and does not stigmatize.

If we don’t think about the long-term move to remote working, it can lead to the creation of two classes of employees: those who don’t have a lot of responsibility for caring and spend a lot of time with managers, and those who do have caring responsibilities – predominantly women – who may pay to work remotely with fewer opportunities, less leadership time, and fewer opportunities for advancement.

Jasmine Tucker, Research Director, National Women’s Rights Center


Courtesy of the National Women’s Rights Center

If this recession is comparable to previous ones, women will suffer from unemployment in 2021. Black women experienced double-digit unemployment rates for about 60 consecutive months after the Great Recession. Meanwhile, white men have never hit double digits.

We’ve seen 2.2 million women to leave the workforce completely. We wiped out a decade of female employment gains in one month. We are now more than 30 years back in our labor force participation rate.

Now two people are looking for work for every job posting. So employers will be selective about who to hire. I hate to believe this is true, but we’ve seen it time and time again: employers are racist and sexist and ageist. They are not going to hire women of color or they are going to hire them for the low paying job. Older women may not return to the workforce at all.

For black women and Latinas this is Wage gap has robbed them of their ability to have savings; When they rejoin the workforce, they are more likely to only take the first thing that comes their way – often at a lower level than before. While a white person who has more savings and more resources may be able to wait a little longer.

The effects will be long and severe. Without action, there is currently no way women can sit back and make up for the losses.

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